By Trevor Brackley, USM Eco-Rep
Water is one of our most precious natural resources, and is something many of us often take for granted. We all rely on access to water daily to carry out several functions necessary to our way of life. These tasks include drinking, bathing, washing, cleaning, flushing waste, preparing or growing food, and more. With an ever increasing human population, availability of fresh, clean drinking water will only become more scarce. Currently, the most prevalent methods used to provide communities with fresh water are surface and groundwater harvesting. Sebago Lake may serve as a familiar example as it supports around 15% of Maine’s population, providing clean fresh water to all of Greater Portland using minimal filtration. While this is working here, overuse of surface and groundwater harvesting methods disrupts Earth’s natural hydrological cycle by removing water quicker than it is replenished, contributing to eventual water table depletion. The magnitude of this problem varies from region to region depending on an areas surface and groundwater supply in relation to its communities demand for water.
One way to act on this issue while simultaneously saving on your water bill, is to harvest rainwater. Rainwater harvesting is simply the collection and storage of run-off from structures or other impervious surfaces when it rains. Various civilizations have harvested rainwater throughout time, and for communities in hotter, drier climates it may have been the difference between survival and death.
Despite this process dating back thousands of years, the technology has mostly remained the same to this day. Essentially, a rooflike surface is equipped with a catchment system to channel rainfall into a storage container through a system of gutters and pipes. These catchment systems can be either passive or active, and the degree of filtration can be adjusted based on the use of the water being harvested. Passive catchment systems require no mechanical methods of collecting, cleaning, and storing water, and they typically rely on the topography of the land, using gravity, or a difference in elevation to drive the flow of water from the collection surface to the storage tank. On the other hand, active systems actively collect, clean, and store water through the use of pumps or filters that require electricity. Generally, these extra components cause active systems to be more expensive and require more maintenance. Overall, harvesting rainwater can help to reduce your water bill, reduce or eliminate your reliance on groundwater, reduce flooding and soil erosion, all the while providing water for irrigation, washing, drinking, or other purposes.
Excitingly, a small group of USM faculty and students are preparing to participate in the 2018 US EPA Campus RainWorks Challenge. The RainWorks challenge is a green infrastructure design competition in which colleges and universities compete for funds to support project ideas with the effort of demonstrating the environmental, economic, and social benefits of green infrastructure practices. The project here will focus on designing a plan to establish a rainwater harvesting system on the USM Gorham campus. Stay tuned for updates on the project!