The Atlanta area has been hit with more than its share of weather extremes in the last couple of years: first drought and water shortages, then record flooding. Nature may not provide a happy medium, but some residents are looking to average things out themselves, in the form of decentralized rainwater harvesting.
In an article in Stormwater magazine early last year, the deputy commissioner for Atlanta’s Bureau of Watershed Protection acknowledged that while small or individual water-retention strategies are possible in the region, there were no plans for large-scale municipal stormwater collection or redistribution. “There is literally no accumulation or ponding,” Sally Mills said in the article. “From a surface water management perspective, we have no stormwater delivery options.”
While it may not be feasible on a large scale, decentralization seems to be the key, some locals are saying. In a recent editorial, the policy director for BRAE Rainwater Technologies Inc., a company that sells rainwater harvesting tanks and systems, advocates a system similar the one proposed in Australia. The author, G. Edward Van Giesen, says that rainwater from metro Atlanta roofs—“collected and stored at the site where it falls”—could average 300 million gallons per day. That would be water that wouldn’t enter the storm drains and that—if it could be put to practical use for irrigation, toilet flushing, or other purposes—would not have to come from the potable water supply. He notes that the Georgia Plumbing Code now allows harvested rainwater to be used for both these purposes, as well as for things like clothes washing, if certain conditions are met.
It will be interesting to watch how this plays out in Georgia; in Australia, the practice certainly hasn’t been without controversy. But the idea of using water “where it falls” echoes the practice of low-impact development techniques for dealing with stormwater.