Harvesting the rain offers trickle-down benefits

An environmentalist says rainwater harvesting could help Torontonians reduce their water consumption.

Emily Alfred of Riversides, an organization that helps prevent watershed pollution, says Toronto uses most of its water for washing and cleaning. But rainwater, says Alfred, is one of the best untapped sources of water.

Alfred says that only 10 per cent of the water used by most people is used for drinking and cooking and that rainwater can be better used for cleaning, flushing and tasks that don’t necessarily need drinkable water.

Alfred says that rainwater harvesting is common in a countries such as Australia.

In rural parts of Australia rainwater is harvested for consumption. Australians have used rainwater as a source for drinking, bathing, cooking and toilette flushing for years. In Australia building codes require that new homes be built to collect runoff for use as ‘brown water’.

In Toronto, because of air pollution and the toxic nature of asphalt roofing, drinking rainwater is not advised, but collecting it for use in gardens is a great idea, Riversides recommends.

One Toronto home featuring a rainwater harvesting system can be found in Riverdale. The home, called Healthy House was designed by architect Martin Leifhebber in 1991 and is outfitted with all sorts of technology required for environmentally friendly living.

The house, won an award in the healthy housing design competition run by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The rainwater that falls on the roof of the healthy house is used as the main source of water and is recycled through a water filtration system. This allows the healthy house to use 90 per cent less water than other homes.

Rainwater is stored in large water tanks outside the home. Most rainwater harvesting systems require a filter to keep insects out, a gutter mesh to keep water flowing and leaves out, a tank top-up system that allows municipal water when rainwater is running low, water level monitor and a pump to dispense the water.

Rainwater harvesting has been around for thousands of years and is now more popular because of the environmental issues involved in water waste.

Rainwater harvesting supporters such as Save the Rain campaign in the United Kingdom claim that there’s a savings of up to 50 per cent per household.

Minaz Asami-Kanji of the Toronto Green Community says that the key to less water waste is in educating people about the importance of water.

“A lot of people in Toronto let their tap water run. So it’s very important to educate them about water,” she said.