Harvesting H2O Reuse and Recycling Start to Catch On

A few generations ago, if you didn't have a well—and sometimes even if you did—your home had a rain barrel outside. It was a free, low-maintenance way to collect fresh water for cooking, cleaning, and other household needs.

Times have obviously changed a great deal, but cheap, clean water is always in demand, and with the move toward greener, more sustainable resources gaining momentum in nearly every corner of the culture, harvesting H2O is still a hot topic in both urban and suburban communities. While some single family homes still make use of the good old-fashioned rain barrel, HOAs and other buildings and developments are employing state-of-the-art technologies to accomplish the same task on a much larger scale—and some grassroots organizations and government agencies alike are pushing for water-saving measures to be written into law.

A Shift in Thinking

One noteworthy example of large-scale water harvesting is the luxury high-rise Visionaire condo in Manhattan. The 33-story building boasts a water-treatment system that can recycle up to 25,000 gallons of water per day for use in flushing toilets and in air-conditioning cooling units. A storm water collection system stores up to 12,000 gallons of rainwater, which is used to irrigate the building’s rooftop gardens.

Thanks to these installations, the 251-unit building uses 55 percent less potable water than a conventional residential building of the same size, and just won a project merit award from the Environmental Business Journal. “It is an honor. We’re thrilled that they chose to recognize us,” says Denise Venuti Free, manager of external relations for American Water, the firm that designed the building's water harvesting systems. The Visionaire, which was designed by architect Raphael Pelli, is the sixth such environmental project that American Water’s Applied Water Management Group has designed in Battery Park City, in Lower Manhattan. The first, the Solaire, received a Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, and also features a reverse-osmosis system that irrigates nearby Teardrop Park.

The projects stand as high-tech examples of a shift in thinking about water use taking place not just in the tristate area, but around the country. Reasons for this shift range from rising "green" consciousness to local water shortages to new regulations aimed at preventing runoff from going straight into storm water drains or water tables. And while the country’s economic woes have slowed the pace of green building right along with other types of development, proponents say that a looming international water crisis, as well as the mainstreaming of an environmental ethos, means that rainwater harvesting will continue to attract interest. The question is whether it will eventually become as common here in the United States as it already is overseas.

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