By Bob Drew and Lawrence Richter Quinn

Next year, Atlanta’s already sky high water and sewer rates will ratchet up yet another 12 percent. One resident who’s not worried: Virginia Highland’s Mary Stouffer, who has found a way to both protect the environment and keep her water costs in check.

Her solution: Install a rainwater collection system in her home – one designed so that water captured can be used for everything from safe drinking (of special concern, since she has three kids) and washing clothes to watering plants and grass.

“With our drought-like conditions over the past couple of years – and the ongoing battle over who controls Lake Lanier’s water – it hit me suddenly: water in Georgia is not a renewable resource, not a commodity to be taken for granted or frittered away,” says Stouffer.

Stouffer says her new 3,400-gallon tank and treatment center will cut her city water use by up to 90 percent, and ensure that what she and her family drinks is free from chlorine and other contaminants.

Stouffer, in fact, is becoming something of an unofficial spokesperson for city officials, residents and businesses as she promotes the benefit of collecting rainwater for drinking and others purposes.

Hers is a “test case” for the city: She has worked closely with Atlanta officials (and plumbing code inspectors in particular) to make sure that the proper filters are installed so her water is potable. Until now, city and state plumbing codes have not included any guidelines for capturing and filtering rainwater for drinking.

Over the past two years, there’s been a groundswell of interest among city residents interested in installing rainwater collection systems – even without the tax and sales incentives other cities around the U.S. offer.

Just ask Sabine Bickert, a Frankfurt-based architect who has a second home in metro Atlanta, where she installed a water harvesting system last year. “I plan to become independent of city water and, finally, of buying electricity by installing solar panels on the roof of the house.”

Mandy Mahoney, the City of Atlanta’s director of sustainability, encourages all residents and business owners to follow the lead of Stouffer and Bickert. “There’s no way we can solve our city’s water problems without creative, thoughtful solutions like this,” she says. “At City Hall, we’re incredibly enthusiastic about these initiatives.”

For more information about rainwater systems, visit  ECOVIE Rainwater Collection Systems at www.ecovieenvironmental.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.