The collapse of the housing-market bubble in Florida has brought
new development in the state to a grinding halt. At the same time,
a slowdown in the decades-long influx of new residents to Florida,
observers say, may signal an end to the population boom that has
fueled long-term growth in the housing industry there.
But even if population growth resumes and home values begin to
rise again, Florida will still face long-term practical constraints
on new development — including the problem of household water
supply. A case in point: negotiations between Broward County and
Palm Beach County over the water distribution plan for a proposed
"A coalition of Broward and Palm Beach County utilities for more
than two years pushed for building an additional reservoir west of
Royal Palm Beach that could capture stormwater and use it to boost
drinking water supplies in the two counties," reports the South
Florida Sun Sentinel ("Hurdles
ahead for Broward, Palm Beach County water-sharing reservoir,"
by Andy Reid). "Now, talk of cooperation switches to dealing with
the touchy topics of how to pay for the estimated $363 million
price tag and how to divvy up the water among thirsty
For most of the last 100 years, civil engineers worked to drain
Florida's swampy interior to make land available for agriculture
and development. The latest proposal is an attempt to make use of
some of the fresh water drained by those engineering projects, says
the Sun Sentinel: "The new reservoir would capture stormwater that
gets drained out to sea by the C-51 canal that stretches through
West Palm Beach. That canal dumps an average of 270 million gallons
of water a day out to sea, more than the 232 million gallons per
day utilities in Palm Beach County are permitted to provide."
One solution for water supply — in coastal regions as well
as inland — is harvesting rainwater directly for home use,
either for a whole development, or on the scale of the individual
home. Eddie Van Giesen is Policy Coordinator for BRAE, a company
that supplies complete rainwater harvesting systems for commercial
as well as residential applications. Van Giesen says that the
industry is getting a big boost from a government mandate for
federal facilities to incorporate rain harvesting into their water
sources. Facilities such as public schools are also good
candidates, Van Giesen says, both because they have large roof
areas and because most of their water is used to flush toilets, so
that harvested rain requires little if any treatment. "The perfect
situation is a large roof area and a large non-potable water
requirement," Giesen notes.
House by house, according to Giesen, rainwater is a plentiful
source on the residential scale: BRAE estimates that as much of
60,000 gallons of water a year falls on a 2,000-square-foot roof in
the Mid-Atlantic states. And Giesen argues, "Rain harvesting makes
sense all the way down to a rain-barrel on an individual house. But
we have package systems for homebuilders that go from just bigger
than a rain-barrel, up to as big as a builder may want —
pump, filtration, and treatment systems that can handle all of a
house's water needs."
BRAE systems are currently in service at showcase locations
such as Mississippi's Grand Bay National Estuarine Research
Reserve, near Gulfport, and at a downtown Raleigh, N.C.,
earth-friendly home featured on television's Planet Green.
In a StormChamber water reuse system, water is
transported from the roof by gutters and downspouts. It passes
through a screen filtering system before entering the buried
575-gallon chamber, where it is stored for future use.
BRAE, of course, is not the only player in the
rainwater-harvesting game. Competitor StormChamber
for example, touts its own polypropylene underground tank storage
system, scalable from single-home to industrial-size applications.
In a recent study, StormChamber tanks with a soil percolation
drainfield were able to manage a stormwater overflow problem in
Kure Beach, N.C., sharply reducing the contamination of ocean water
with harmful bacteria washed out of populated areas during heavy
rain events, according to the Island Gazette ("Kure
Beach Storm Water Outfall Experiment Shows Good Results
Willard H. Killough III).
The beauty of rainwater harvesting, advocates argue, is that it
addresses stormwater and pollution issues at the same time that it
offers water supply solutions. And as water becomes an increasingly
scarce resource, Eddie Van Giesen argues, "We can't look at water
the same way as we have been, any more. Eventually, we are going to
have to look at water and treat it depending on what you are going
to use it for. If you're going to wash garbage trucks out with it,
it will require this much treatment. You're going to flush toilets?
This much. You're going to drink it? This much. We don't need to be
spending effort, money, and time in treating water to a level that
is not necessary."