Donal Hickey: Our rainwater could be could more and here's how

In the days when many people did not have piped water, they had to store some of that which fell so freely as rain.

Donal Hickey: Our rainwater could be could more and here's how

In the days when many people did not have piped water, they had to store some of that which fell so freely as rain, writes Donal Hickey.

Most farms and some dwellings had troughs, while barrels standing at the corners of houses to catch rain falling from the roofs via chutes were standard.

The drought has again highlighted demand for water and the need to conserve supplies especially as up to 50% of treated water in some areas is lost through leaks and dripping taps. It’s expensive to treat water for human consumption. This water is also used for flushing toilets, showers, and washing cars, but people are starting to look more towards using rainwater for non-drinking purposes.

With climate change and predictions of more lengthy spells of heavy rain followed by drought, water is going to become an increasingly urgent issue. Much of our rain ends up underground, but large volumes of groundwater are unused at present.

Buildings of all kinds could have systems to trap and store water, known as water harvesting. Tanks to store roof water can be installed under chutes at the sides of buildings, while underground tanks with pumps and filtration systems can also be provided.

Several water-harvesting companies are now operating around the country. Studies show rainwater could substitute for 55% of domestic treated water while 85% of water used for business and industry need not be of drinking standard. Harvesting systems have long been popular abroad and have, for instance, been used for decades in Germany, which does not have as much rainfall as Ireland and relies more on groundwater.

Each person here uses an average of 200 litres, or almost two full baths of water, daily for drinking, washing and other purposes. And, with the population growing and the economy improving, demands are increasing and new water sources must be found.

On a visit to Australia a few years ago, I was surprised to see huge amounts of water being stored. In a residential area of Sydney, for example, practically every house had a tank capable of holding at least 5,000 gallons. Homeowners we spoke with regarded this as normal practice.

Australia is in the driest continent, so they cannot afford to waste water. Harvesting is actively encouraged there to ease pressures and save money on public supplies. This is a necessity in rural Australia where up two-thirds of water is harvested. Householders in some parts of Australia, who do not have a mains supply, are obliged by councils to harvest water. Some people are now convinced the political failure to introduce water charges here was a mistake. For, if we had to pay, we would be far more careful about our use of this precious resource.

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