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Nanaimo regional district releases rainwater capture guidebook

Into each life, a little rain must fall, and if you live in the Nanaimo Regional District, a guidebook can help provide the ins-and-outs of harvesting one of our most important resources.

The RDN has just released the Rainwater Harvesting Best Practices Guidebook as part of its Green Building Action Plan.

"The guidebook is envisioned as a practical resource for residents in the region interested in exploring and building rainwater capture systems," said Chris Midgley, manager of Energy and Sustainability, RDN. "It's not a how-to, we're not expecting people to read the book and be able to go out and build a system, but to understand the systems better so they're not going into it blind, they'll know what to look for, what constitutes a well functioning system, and who they may need to bring on board to build those systems."

The concept of rainwater harvesting is simple – water is collected via the roof area during the fall season and transferred to a cistern area for treatment and then stored for future reuse. Rainwater harvesting systems can be simple or complex design, based on what the water's designated use is.

The spectrum ranges from lawn irrigation to car washing, to indoor uses like toilet flushing. More comprehensive systems would provide an entire household's needs, including drinking water.

"If you're only interested in watering your garden, you'd have a much smaller amount of storage than if you were going to provide all your household needs," Midgely said.

With limited groundwater resources, particularly in the summer, rainwater capturing is a plus for the environment, and increases residents' self sufficiency, slows down or eliminates storm water runoff and reduces energy consumption when compared to wells, Midgley said.

"It's always a good idea to conserve water. People look at the rain outside and wonder why we should bother but the reality is over the summer, the climate here, we have a drought over the summers where groundwater levels drop, where the availability of natural water, or water that hasn't been stored is less available," he said.

So far, there has been plenty of interest in the rainwater capture program, particularly in the Gabriola and Cedar areas of the district.

"If you look at the region more broadly, there are certain areas that are more vulnerable to water shortages than others, the classic example being Gabriola Island where they don't really have a distribution system," he explained.

"Those residents are hopefully going to be interested in the guide, but generally as well, the Yellowpoint aquifer is identified as an aquifer that's susceptible to impacts, or vulnerable to development, so to protect your groundwater resources in places like that, rainwater systems are particularly useful."

This year, the RDN's Water Services Department established a rainwater harvesting incentive program which provided rebates of up to $750 to homeowners who invest in cisterns exceeding 4,546 litres. According to RDN special projects assistant Julie Pisani, all 40 of the district's available incentive rebates were used up within the first six months of offering the program. In addition, the RDN established the Yellow Point Aquifer Development Permit Area in the Electoral Area A Official Community plan in 2011, requiring new development and major renovations within the area to incorporate rainwater harvesting systems with a 18,000-plus litre capacity.

Pisani said the RDN is hoping to offer and expand the rebate program for 2013, but the proposal will not be brought forward to the district board until March.

One free copy of the guidebook is available for each household in the RDN, and additional copies, or copies for non-residents can be purchased for $15. An electronic version of the guide is available from the RDN's website at www.rdn.bc.ca under the Services/Energy tab.

To order a guidebook, contact sustainability coordinator Ting Pan at 1-877-607-4111 or via e-mail at sustainability@rdn.bc.ca.

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