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Professor puts common sense rainwater harvesting to the test

Head shot of Professor Lee.

Head shot of Professor Lee.

  • December 9, 2010 2:00pm

You collect the rainwater and use it on plants. Pretty basic, but not a common technique in our country.

Michael D. Lee, professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, is making a practical commitment to ecology and self-efficiency by designing and installing a household rainwater capture and usage system in Oakland.

He writes about the age-old practice that was common in his native England and which is being aggressively promoted in water-short Australia today, and compares the effectiveness of such systems in Oakland versus Melbourne, Australia, in his article, “Water Efficiency: A Tale of Two Cities” in the November-December 2010 issue of “Water Efficiency,” the Journal for Water Resource Management.

Keeping an eye on the big picture, Lee wants to reduce the reliance on finite municipal sources, which is especially important during times of drought, and offset Oakland’s need for additional capital investments, which generally carry a much higher per unit cost than already developed, existing supplies. He also knows that water conservation means energy conservation.

Substituting rainwater for treated water avoids the embedded environmental costs and energy consumption of treatment and delivery associated with using potable supplies for non-potable purposes. It can also provide an emergency, on-site, source of water in case of interruption of municipal supplies, such as following a large earthquake; stored rainwater can relatively easily and cheaply be rendered potable through boiling, micro-filtration, or chlorination.

Lastly, Lee recognizes another benefit from rainwater harvesting; rainwater usage reduces the volume and peak flows of storm water runoff, reducing the risk of both urban flooding and non-point source pollution.

You can read the full story, and see Lee’s effectiveness calculations, at:


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