Editor’s Note: INtown is thrilled to welcome our new regular columnist Sally Bethea, who will be writing about water and sustainability issues in Atlanta. 

By Sally Bethea

Weatherwise, it’s been a summer of sharp contrasts in Atlanta. Weeks of hot, dry weather have been punctuated by torrential rain storms that have kept the plants in my yard sporadically happy and local lakes and rivers mostly full.

While a portion of northern Georgia was considered “abnormally dry” in July, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, our water supplies are in pretty good shape this year for most of the state.

But, in California, it’s a different story. It is in its fourth year of an “exceptional drought” with no end in sight. Residents in communities throughout the state have been ordered to conserve water or face consequences, and “drought shaming” of those with well-watered lawns or other signs of excessive water consumption has become commonplace.

Six years ago, we were experiencing our own exceptional drought here in Atlanta. Given recent trends, it’s just a matter of time before another drought comes our way. The question is whether or not we’ll be more prepared for the next one, than we were for the last.

A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey concludes that water use decreased significantly in Georgia during the decade from 2000 to 2010 when we experienced two major droughts.

While this decrease was largely due to the move from coal-fired power plants – that use large volumes of water – to gas-fired plants, it is also apparent that people are beginning to get in the habit of conserving water, whether we’re in a drought or not. And that’s good news.

I love my garden as much as any other Southerner and one of the best places I’ve found to reduce my personal water use is through rainwater harvesting to sustain my plants during Atlanta’s hot summers. Every time we have another downpour, my rain barrel captures and stores 60 gallons of water that falls on my roof, before it can enter a storm drain and disappear.

Rainwater harvesting is an easy and effective technique to cope with drought, reduce storm runoff and increase our available water resources. Reducing Atlanta’s water demand also means that less water needs to be withdrawn from local rivers, keeping them as healthy as possible.

Georgia Tech, Emory and other colleges have installed rainwater harvesting systems on their campuses that are delivering significant amounts of water for non-potable uses. Businesses are also investing in rain harvesting systems to maintain the appearance of their landscaping and reduce their water bills.

The city of Atlanta is hosting rain barrel workshops on Aug. 19 and Sept. 23 from 11a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Water Works Lodge, 655 Green Street NW. The fee of $40 includes a rain barrel and installation kit. To register, contact Danita Ogandaga at dogandaga@atlantaga.gov or (404) 546-3217.

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper also provides rain barrel workshops for groups of 15 or more. For more information, see chattahoochee.org/our-work/education-training/rain-barrel-workshops/ or call (404) 352-9828.

Sally Bethea is the recently-retired riverkeeper and executive director of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (chattahoochee.org), a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization whose mission is to protect and restore the drinking water supply for nearly four million people.

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.

6 replies on “Above the Waterline: Rainwater harvesting saves water, gardens and rivers”

  1. Rainwater harvesting is PC garbage. Sixty (60) gallons is like spitting on your yard to keep it watered. While it may sound nice, it is extremely costly (cost/gallon) in both time and money.

    One inch of rain on one acre of ground amounts to 27,154 gallons.

    There are places that benefit by using rain barrels … for drinking water consumption, not for watering a garden or yard.

  2. Rainwater harvesting is PC garbage. Sixty (60) gallons is like spitting on your yard to keep it watered. While it may sound nice, it is extremely costly (cost/gallon) in both time and money.

    One inch of rain on one acre of ground amounts to 27,154 gallons.

    There are places that benefit by using rain barrels … for drinking water consumption, not for watering a garden or yard.

  3. Rainwater harvesting is a reliable way to conserve water for landscaping. For instance in my own extensive perennial garden and grass areas I have had available water all summer from a 3,000 gallon system.
    This works because first you will have water, we average 4 inches of rain per month all year long.
    Second when we get a good rain like we did last night I have a full pillow system and also my landscape is fully watered.
    Third by harvesting water you will quickly learn to only water when it is needed. During a drought I will replace more plants do to too much water then from death caused by a lack of water.
    Lastly there will come a time when everyone will be required to harvest of at least control all the water that falls on your property. This will not be because of a lack of water but rather because the storm water is polluting our drinking water. We simply cannot remove many chemicals and pharmacuticals from our drinking water when we need millions of gallons per day. Do you have any idea what you are drinking out of the tap? Do you know how many chemicals are commonly used in the US in relation to the number of chemicals that municipalities are required to test in our drinking water.
    If you have any doubts about harvesting rainwater and it’s value please take the time to contact someone that has a 2-3,000 gallon system for landscaping. You would be amazed.
    One problem I see in rainwater harvesting is the idea that it doesn’t work unless it replaces all your landscape water needs. Look at it this way, I can’t save you $10 but I can save you $5. Why are you not taking the $5?
    Water conservation is in all of our futures. The question is how bad must the water issues become before it is taken seriously by the average person.

  4. Rainwater harvesting is a reliable way to conserve water for landscaping. For instance in my own extensive perennial garden and grass areas I have had available water all summer from a 3,000 gallon system.
    This works because first you will have water, we average 4 inches of rain per month all year long.
    Second when we get a good rain like we did last night I have a full pillow system and also my landscape is fully watered.
    Third by harvesting water you will quickly learn to only water when it is needed. During a drought I will replace more plants do to too much water then from death caused by a lack of water.
    Lastly there will come a time when everyone will be required to harvest of at least control all the water that falls on your property. This will not be because of a lack of water but rather because the storm water is polluting our drinking water. We simply cannot remove many chemicals and pharmacuticals from our drinking water when we need millions of gallons per day. Do you have any idea what you are drinking out of the tap? Do you know how many chemicals are commonly used in the US in relation to the number of chemicals that municipalities are required to test in our drinking water.
    If you have any doubts about harvesting rainwater and it’s value please take the time to contact someone that has a 2-3,000 gallon system for landscaping. You would be amazed.
    One problem I see in rainwater harvesting is the idea that it doesn’t work unless it replaces all your landscape water needs. Look at it this way, I can’t save you $10 but I can save you $5. Why are you not taking the $5?
    Water conservation is in all of our futures. The question is how bad must the water issues become before it is taken seriously by the average person.

  5. What was the cost to install the 3,000 gallon retention system? How does the stored water get distributed to the needed areas? What is its O&M cost in both time and money? Your 3,000 gallon system occupies approximately 27 cubic yards. Where and how is this accomplished and is your method suitable for others with different properties?

    How many gallons do you utilize per year? Knowing that, what is your cost per 1,000 gallons or per cubic foot? Compare that to the current costs for obtaining the same volume commercially.

    The article discussed utilizing a rain barrel. You would need 50 rain barrels interconnected into a storage/distribution system to store your 3,000 gallons. At $40.00/barrel, the initial cost just to acquire the storage capacity would be $2,000.00, plus $140.00 sales tax, plus delivery costs. Then, the ‘installation kits’ would probably have to be modified in order to function as a system.

    Lastly, an irrigation system works automatically, without utilizing one’s time and energy. Good trade-off. 🙂

  6. What was the cost to install the 3,000 gallon retention system? How does the stored water get distributed to the needed areas? What is its O&M cost in both time and money? Your 3,000 gallon system occupies approximately 27 cubic yards. Where and how is this accomplished and is your method suitable for others with different properties?

    How many gallons do you utilize per year? Knowing that, what is your cost per 1,000 gallons or per cubic foot? Compare that to the current costs for obtaining the same volume commercially.

    The article discussed utilizing a rain barrel. You would need 50 rain barrels interconnected into a storage/distribution system to store your 3,000 gallons. At $40.00/barrel, the initial cost just to acquire the storage capacity would be $2,000.00, plus $140.00 sales tax, plus delivery costs. Then, the ‘installation kits’ would probably have to be modified in order to function as a system.

    Lastly, an irrigation system works automatically, without utilizing one’s time and energy. Good trade-off. 🙂

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