Big Changes

Posted on March 22nd, 2010 by Phil in Cool Stuff, Phil Says, Rainwater Recovery News

FiretruckiStock_000004860932XSmallAnd I mean BIG changes.

First off, Rainwater’s Waltham office has been closed up and the Rainwater team have moved to Brookline. Specifically, the Geosyntec office in Brookline. Yes, that’s right. Geosyntec Consultants has acquired Rainwater Recovery.

Geosyntec is an exciting place to be right now, with so many smart and innovative people working on hundreds of projects. And their commitment to the application of low impact development design principles in protecting the nation’s water resources from the impacts of stormwater flows makes us a great match.

This union is big for a number of reasons, but the biggest for me is that we can leverage our harvesting expertise into a scale that helps us deliver on our vision. At Geosyntec, rather than implementing positive impacts to the environment by mostly single-project initiatives, we’ll be able to make a much bigger impact at the  watershed and in some cases on the entire urban or metropolitan area scale.  The value of what we bring and the consequences of our work on the environment just got much bigger.

It feels good to be part of the Geosyntec team, to concentrate on what we do best. Right now that means jumping right into new projects and assisting Geosyntec teams around the US in developing business opportunities with broader project scopes involving harvesting and integrated stormwater management systems.. Most of the people I meet are already on board the rainwater harvesting bandwagon, so my role as an evangelist has diminished. Instead, I step right to implementation.

For example, the project we’re working on in Washington, DC includes s tormwater control, capture and reuse of roof and potentially surface water at two firestations in the District that will not only provide water for the daily washing of the firetrucks, but also for priming on-board “first responder” water tanks in the fire trucks themselves. Resulting in a greener District.

And there are so many more projects – some could only be characterized as huge. One project I’m really excited about is a low-to-moderate income housing rehab. An incredible group of developers are greening urban areas with solar, harvesting and enhanced stormwater management.  Really exciting times in the water biz. So stay tuned – updates to follow.

DNE_decThe lovely, glossy magazine that is Design New England usually has articles called “The Epitome of Style” and pictures of highboys and newel posts has embraced rainwater harvesting in a piece called “Beyond the Barrel.” It has a nifty illustration of a residential harvesting system. And guess who’s the star of the piece? Our own Phil Reidy.

The interviewer did a great job. We especially like the final quote:

“I’m a water guy,” says Reidy. “I love the idea of taking the water off your roof and using it locally.”

That explains it!

You can see a pdf of the article here.

LakeLanierGainesvilleGA

Lake Lanier, Gainesville, GA

The October 19, 2009 Water Efficiency Newsletter ran a fascinating piece entitled ‘Drought, Demand, and the GW  Bogeyman.’ The message is compelling: In short, studies are showing that water shortages in the southeastern U.S. (think metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia and neighboring states) have less to do with drought conditions than they do with prolonged mismanagement of the water supply and chronic overuse.  It turns out that by comparison, the recent drought in the southeastern U.S. is less severe than that experienced between 1998 and 2002, and far less severe than those in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The primary difference of course is population and use.  But the message is clear: 1) it took prolonged inequities between population growth, development regulations and resource management to get to such a critical state, and 2) if Global Warming is projected to produce more severe droughts in certain areas, and with the south being one of those, from a historical perspective the worst is yet to come.  Unless of course, you don’t believe in Global Warming. In which case everything will just take care of itself.

We think the solution will be made up of lots of smart changes, and one of those must be water harvesting. The problem would be significantly abated if there was a blanket policy that all new construction implement water harvesting systems sized to capture a reasonably intense storm event (e.g. the 2-year recurring design storm) from roofs and other appropriate catchment areas. This type of policy change is made more difficult by the fact that water is seriously underpriced in most metropolitan areas—often assigning any price to the resource itself but simply reflecting costs of operation and maintenance of treatment and delivery systems.
We suggest that if these three steps were implemented, it would go a long way toward solving the problem:
1. Change the pricing structure so the real costs of water are paid for by users—not with subsidies.
2. Implement aggressive tiered rate structures that makes discretionary water use significantly more expensive than base domestic use targets.
3. Make rainwater harvesting mandatory for all new construction and significant renovation/redevelopment projects, including government and municipal construction.
4. In the interim, use subsides from other water resource programs to pay for implementation out of less productive water resource and stormwater programs.

The solution will be made up of lots of smart changes, and one of those must be water harvesting. The problem would be significantly abated if there was a blanket policy that all new construction implement water harvesting systems sized to capture a reasonably intense storm event (e.g. the 2-year recurring design storm) from roofs and other appropriate catchment areas. This type of policy change is made more difficult by the fact that water is seriously underpriced in most metropolitan areas—often not assigning any price to the resource itself but simply reflecting costs of operation and maintenance of treatment and delivery systems.

We suggest that if these four steps were implemented, it would go a long way toward solving the problem:

  1. Change the pricing structure so the real costs of water are paid for by users—not with subsidies.
  2. Implement aggressive tiered rate structures that make discretionary water use significantly more expensive than base domestic use targets.
  3. Make rainwater harvesting mandatory for all new construction and significant renovation/redevelopment projects, including government and municipal construction.
  4. In the interim, use subsides from other water resource programs to pay for implementation out of less productive water resource and stormwater program.

ObamaProgressBy Executive Order, President Obama this week extended the Federal government’s commitment to sustainable design and environmental performance for government facilities by setting sustainability goals for all Federal agencies. The Order set specific, although rather extended, milestones for achieving water savings as well as energy, waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

Most notable for the water and wastewater sectors are the water efficiency and Section 438 Stormwater provisions of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. It stipulates that all Federal facilities development or redevelopment projects involving “a footprint that exceeds 5,000 sq. ft shall use site planning, design, construction and maintenance strategies for the property to maintain or restore, to the maximum extent technically feasible, the predevelopment hydrology of the property” as it relates to stormwater flows and characteristics.

These are and will continue to be big drivers for water conservation and integrated harvesting and stormwater management strategies and systems. We’re excited to see the President, among his numerous other hot-button priorities, keep his focus on improving the environment and on creating economic drivers for techniques and technologies that will get us there. Moving forward!

Recharging history

Posted on October 1st, 2009 by Water Nymph in Phil Says

RechargeWe at Rainwater are working on our third major project designing groundwater recharge systems below buildings to mitigatethe deterioration of wood pile foundations.

One building we’re working under is irreplaceable; a 250-year-old building where foundations, if left unchecked, would deteriorate to a perilous state. It’s not the fault of the nineteenth century engineers. They knew that wood in water doesn’t rot—the water keeps out the air, bugs, and fungus that cause wood to decay. They drove the wood piles (essentially hardwood trees that had all the branches trimmed off, were turned upside down, and driven into the ground) to below the natural groundwater level, pumped the water back in, and thought they’d created foundations to last eternity.

The problems started when more city construction came in—infrastructure such as deep storm sewers, subway tunnels and the like—and despite best efforts, made an unintended but undeniable path for water to drain away, leading to lowering of groundwater levels below structures with wood pile foundations and exposing these foundation elements to air—and the natural wood predators that come with those moist environments. These groundwater leaks have enormous financial repercussions. For example, the recently completed, $7-billion state-of-the-art Deer Island sewage treatment plant in Boston actually processes an enormous amount of clean groundwater that leaks into sanitary and combined sewers on the way to the plant—some estimates put the infiltration of groundwater at approximately 1/3 of the approximately 300 million gallons of water flowing to the plant, per day, where it is subject to advanced and costly water quality treatment before being discharged into the Massachusetts Bay. Beyond the unfortunate cost of the treatment of this normally clean groundwater, the consequential damage associated with these leaks are the deterioration of wood pile foundations under some of Boston’s most cherished historic structures. The cost of repairing or mitigating this problem is almost incalculable— so the work of stemming the problem has become very serious indeed.

But what about our beautiful 250-year-old building and its foundation? Once the water’s gone, so goes the protection from rot.

For the parts of the pilings that are no longer strong enough to do the work of holding up the building, they can use underpinning and replace the rotted part with a splice of concrete or metal.

But once that’s done, steps must be taken to prevent the other pilings from rotting. That’s where we come in, bringing up the water, restoring the ground water level under the building to where it was when it was built, recharging it with rainwater when possible from the building’s roof and other nearby catchment areas. That could add up to a savings of millions of gallons a year of fresh drinking water. Smart clients look to Rainwater Recovery, to show them how to use their roof water as the initial source.

JoshSmallRainwater’s Senior Project Engineer, Josh Briggs, joined the team in June 2008. His expertise in the integration of rainwater harvesting with stormwater management and water resources engineering have been invaluable, enhancing the amount and quality of Rainwater’s projects.

He’s an adventurous fellow, riding his bike to work through the scary streets of Boston, daring the crowds at the presidential inauguration, and here, in the photo at left, camping in the White Mountains. Still, he brings that engineering flavor to everything he does. Josh says, “This was from winter camping last February in the White Mountains at Zealand Falls. Camped out with friends on a four foot snowpack–a beautiful spot. The picture was taken as I was attempting to start a fire in a hole I had dug near a tree well. They thought it incredibly humorous that I was scrambling all over the place finding dead wood and kindling only to have a modest fire at best… but I was the only warm one in the end!”

My new favorite e-card

Posted on July 6th, 2009 by Water Nymph in Cool Stuff

charitywatercharity: water does everything right. They are a non-profit who’s mission is to bring clean and safe drinking water to places like the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Haiti. In fact, they’ve completed 1,247 water projects, serving 650,000 people (according to their website).

Rainwater Recovery is exploring ways to help some non-profits, but right now, we can help these thirsty people in a cool and easy way: send their e-cards. You can see them here. You can send a card designed for birthdays, get well wishes, or “Just Because” Each group has at least a couple options, one an interesting graphic design and the other an image of happy children getting clean, fresh water. The text for the anniversary card reads, “A donation has been made in honor of your special day. Because of this gift, someone you’ve never met will now have clean, safe drinking water…”

It’s just $20, and everyone I’ve sent them to has loved them.

bip-rendering

Can we just take a deep breath and enjoy this moment? We are always moving on to the next thing, we believe so strongly that we are doing good for the environment and we can’t do enough, but just for this moment, can we please say Thank You—to the universe, to Mayor Bloomberg, to the people of Brooklyn who recognize the importance of LEED certification, to all of you who care, and to those wonderful people at Roofscapes.

It’s the Bushwick Inlet Park building. First Deputy Major Patricia E. Harris describes it this way (in I.D.) “The structure will function as the Parks Department’s district headquarters, a community space, and a comfort station for the park. But what I love most about the innovative design is the sloped green roof, which will be fully accessible to the public and will itself be a park.”

For us, it was an eye-opener: we want to do lots of projects like this. The impact is enormous.

But for now, we’re just going to bask in this lovely feeling. They got it.

Water spotters

Posted on June 22nd, 2009 by Phil in Phil Says

istock_000009749421xsmallA San Diego, CA suburb has come up with an ingenious approach to enforcing water conservation regulations: the Neighborhood Watch Program!

At the risk of pitting neighbor against neighbor, the City of Poway, California has instituted a web- and phone- based reporting system for residents to report water wasting practices such as sprinklers operating during rain events, spraying onto streets and sidewalks, gross leakage due to broken sprinkler heads, and others.

Enforcing water conservation restrictions has long been a struggle for regulatory bodies, as it is always a challenge, especially in these times, to find money for resources to enforce conservation or use restriction methods.

Check out this article to see how one city has implemented an innovative approach to keeping wasteful water use in check.  As they say, it takes a village…

paulslawnFriend of Rainwater, Paul Lauenstein, has come up with a very interesting approach to sustainable lawn care.  I know this fellow and he is committed on a local level to sustainable practices.  I think his idea is worthy of support of the sustainable community—so please take a look at his brief write up and give support as you see fit with a vote on the Conservation Law Foundation contest.  On their site you will see the other 9 finalists—all very noble and practical entries.  But given the stress on fresh water supplies in this as well as many other areas due (in large part) to irresponsible landscape irrigation, this one has a lot of merit.

Feel free to forward this post to your sustainable-minded friends and colleagues.

Coincidently, this week’s Boston Sunday Globe highlighted just this issue.  You can read the article here: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/06/07/in_mass_concerns_rising_on_water_overuse?s_campaign=8315

In the meantime, go vote for Paul’s idea here!

6/29/09 Update: Paul won! Thank you to all of you out there who went and voted for him. Good job, Paul!

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