2010 Water Conference Report

How Can the Irrigation Industry Take a Leadership Role in Addressing our Water Challenges?

A report from the Irrigation Association’s 2010 Water Conference

By MaryLou Smith

““Rainwater is beautiful water. Why aren’’t we using it?”” Tom Barrett asked. He then proposed justification and techniques for keeping rainwater on site so that it can be used to help fulfill water needs.

Designing impermeable surfaces to capture rainwater is key, he said, and that requires being able to hold water from when it falls to when we need it. He cited the example of Chicago, which receives average rainfall, where a three-acre commercial lot could capture and utilize almost three million gallons a year. Alternatively, Barrett posed, that water becomes stormwater, which is considered our number one source of water pollution and which costs a considerable amount of money to manage.

How can we effectively use that rainwater and keep it from becoming stormwater? Barrett suggested a variety of solutions, including:

  • Size the landscape to absorb anticipated rainwater, including roof and hardscape runoff
  • Use the harvested rainwater within 30 hours. . .
  • Create a concave landscape. . .
  • Collect runoff, filter it, apply it to the landscape and create habitats

Though rainwater barrels have received much publicity recently, Barrett pointed out that they can be unattractive, the water must be used soon, and the barrel must have a sealed lid to keep out mosquitoes. Alternatively, both above and below-ground cisterns are available, which can be set up to provide water for all kinds of non-potable uses and can even be fitted with automatic sensors which switch to the use of city water when the cistern is out of water.

Another point made by Barrett is that landscape architects need to begin incorporating more permeable surfaces into their designs so that rainwater that does escape our immediate or on-site stored use can be absorbed underground, reducing flooding and stormwater pollution.

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