Presentation to city council touts benefits of harvesting rainwater
by Laura Haley
Contributing Writer
Mar 20, 2014 | 1253 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
With an average of only 9 inches of annual precipitation in this area, water is a precious commodity in Moab. However, with the right setup, at least some rainwater can be harnessed to provide irrigation to gardens and lawns, rather than draining into the city’s stormwater system or flowing into ditches.

Roslynn Brain, an associate professor with Utah State University, and Jeremy Lynch, a sustainable communities intern with the USU extension program, are trying to teach people how to make that happen.

Lynch and Brain recently hosted a rainwater-harvesting workshop in Moab that was attended by more than 30 local residents, according to Brain.

This week, the pair gave a public presentation about rainwater harvesting during the March 18 Moab City Council meeting.

“When we build a building, the general thought process is to get the water away,” Brain told the city council. “That’s not an ideal process given how dry the climate is here.”

Lynch said they began looking at the process while working on the design for the new USU-Moab campus that is being planned for the south end of the city.

“We’re trying to plan the parking lot so that it can spread the water so it’s useful,” he said.

Capturing and using rainwater is a cheap and effective water conservation practice, Lynch said.

“It reduces the overall withdrawal and use of water,” he said.

Because people are using rain that would otherwise be running down drains, it decreases the amount of culinary water being drawn for outside uses, he said.

Lynch explained a number of different practices that can be used to collect rainwater. “The average roof collects six hundred gallons of water for every inch of rain,” he said. “Gutters and downspouts can redirect the water so it infiltrates the ground.”

Brain said that until a few years ago, it was illegal for Utah residents to capture and store rainwater. However, in 2011 the law was changed to allow residents to capture up to 2,500 gallons of water each year.

According to the Utah Division of Water Rights, an individual is allowed to collect up to 200 gallons of precipitation in two separate containers without registering their use. However, in order to collect more than that, the use must be registered.

“Collection and use are limited to the same parcel of land on which the water is captured and stored,” according to the Utah Division of Water Rights website.

Lynch and Brain also introduced several concepts that the city could adopt in order to benefit from rainwater, including cutting curbs to allow water to flow into vegetated areas.

“This is being used in the Mill Creek subdivision,” Brain said.

While many people cite concerns about the chemicals that might leach into rainwater that is collected from the street, Brain said that’s not a problem as long as the plants being watered are woody shrubs.

“You wouldn’t want to use it to water your lettuce garden,” she said.

Because the water being collected hasn’t been treated, Brain said it is actually more beneficial to trees and plants than culinary water.

“It’s healthier ... because it doesn’t have all the chlorine and fluoride added to it,” she said.

Moab City Manager Donna Metzler pointed out that the landscaping in front of City Hall is designed to maximize rainwater efficiency.

“It’s really impressive during a rain storm,” she said.

Brain and Lynch also discussed recapturing gray water – the water used in sinks, bathtubs and laundry machines. Metzler said that while many people think the practice is illegal, the Southeastern Utah Health Department has a permitting process for people who are interested in pursuing a grey water system.

“It’s a great time to give people some positive things they can do,” Moab City council member Heila Ershadi said Tuesday night.

Council member Gregg Stucki agreed.

“It makes sense, and I think here in Moab many, many people would jump on it.”

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