TAG | rainwater harvesting
The recent decision by the Queensland state government to remove the requirement for mandatory rainwater tanks for new house developments is a prime example of putting short-term gain over long-term benefit.
There have been numerous studies to explore the economic benefit or otherwise of installing a rainwater tank. With the cost of domestic water mains supply still relatively low at present, it is difficult to put a resounding case for purely economic benefit. And to try to do so is missing the point.
The real issue here is, what type of message this sends regarding the leadership role of government to impress on the community, the need to accept responsibility for our impact on the environment both now and in the future.
In years to come, the ‘saving’ of a minor percentage (maybe less than 1%) of construction cost will most likely be regarded with ridicule when compared to the spiraling costs of providing basic infrastructure services to an ever-increasing population.
Of course, home owners are “free to choose” to install a rainwater tank and save precious potable water for the good of themselves and the community. But the contradictory message from the Queensland state government, is that short-term political gain – ticking a box to reduce building construction costs, regardless of how minor – is more important than the long-term benefits of actively promoting environmentally sustainable habits in our society.
Meanwhile the rainwater industry sheds jobs due to the decreased demand and building construction costs continue to rise for all sorts of reasons which we are told are largely out of the control of the government.
It’s difficult to see who actually does benefit from the decision to remove the mandatory requirement for rainwater tanks in Queensland.
Following the huge uptake of urban rainwater harvesting in Australian cities, a great deal of interest is being focused on energy efficient pumps and rainwater system design. Research has recently been conducted to assist with the investigation of the comparative energy consumption of rainwater use.
As the majority of urban rainwater tanks are installed at ground level, a water pump is required to provide enough water pressure to supply connected household appliances or to operate garden watering systems. The fact that most pumps run on electricity, raises the issue as to the overall cost of rainwater use in comparison to the use of mains water.
Solar-powered water pumps are available but are generally more expensive and hence currently not widely used in domestic rainwater systems.
Research conducted by the CSIRO indicates that there are a number of major considerations with energy efficient pumps and rainwater system design:
- Ensuring that the pump size and flow rate is optimised in relation to the household demand for rainwater
- Understanding the water requirements of end-use appliances
- Pipe diameter connecting the rainwater supply to the pump and end use outlets in relation to pump pressure
- Incorporating a gravity-fed header tank which is topped up periodically via pumping from a larger storage tank
- Using a pump pressure tank to prevent the need for the pump to start when only a small amount of water is required
Publication of a conference paper detailing the research findings is available at http://www.urbanwateralliance.org.au/publications/forum2012/UWSRA%20Science%20Forum%20-%2019-20%20June%202012.pdf
The overall conclusion in the paper is that continual improvements in energy efficiency of rainwater harvesting will be realised though the dissemination of knowledge to further the understanding of energy efficient pump installations and rainwater system design
So what can you do with an existing pump to improve energy efficiency?
An easy and effective way to reduce pump energy consumption is to install a pressure tank. This will reduce the number of times the pump starts by providing for small demands of water and prevents pump cycling (constant starting and stopping) in case of a small pipe leak, dripping tap or slow-filling toilet cistern.
For instance, with a 6-litre toilet cistern capacity, installing a pressure tank with 15 litre draw will ensure the pump starts only once for each three toilet flushes. Pressure pumps draw more electrical power in the start-up operation. Reducing the number of times your pump has to start reduces the power it consumes.
A pressure tank can easily be retrofitted to most pumps.
For more information on energy-efficient pumps see our pump service page.
Preliminary findings of research focusing on rainwater tank operation and maintenance indicate that the majority favour self-management of household rainwater systems. The research, conducted by the CSIRO on behalf of the Urban Water Security Research Alliance during 2011, involved workshops attended by rainwater industry stakeholders with subsequent community research. The objective of the workshops was to document various strategies for ensuring the ongoing viability of household rainwater harvesting in relation to development of future water security policy.
Water Tactics were involved in the Brisbane workshop and put forward our belief that the most effective way to ensure long-term viability was to encourage self-management of household rainwater harvesting systems through continued Government recognition of the contribution of rainwater to the conservation of reticulated water supply and the consideration of rainwater tank maintenance as a part of regular household maintenance. However, there were others who suggested compulsory inspection and registration of tank owners. You can read full details of our participation in our previous news item.
In an extract from the research findings in a letter to stakeholder workshop participants dated 18/1/12:
“Workshop discussions suggested that self-management approaches and amendments to regulations to improve design and installation were viewed as the most effective and most preferred options”. “Regulatory approaches for ensuring ongoing maintenance, through the use of routine inspections and penalties, were assessed as the least effective and the least preferred options.”
Not surprisingly, when the stakeholder workshop outcomes were presented to community focus groups, the majority were in favour of self-management with back-up assistance when requested combined with communication to raise awareness and highlight the benefits of rainwater system maintenance. In the research to date, there was no community support for compulsory inspections or for creating registers of rainwater tank households.
Research continues in 2012 with the aim to measure broad-scale community attitudes to rainwater tank operation and maintenance with the aim to assessing the long-term viability of household rainwater harvesting in water conservation in Australia. The outcomes will almost certainly confirm the preliminary findings and concur with our belief that a vast majority favour self-management of household rainwater systems.
Looking for specialist rainwater tank plumbing services and expert tank advice in Brisbane? Water Tactics provide a one-stop service for rainwater tank installation, maintenance and modification of rainwater harvesting systems.
Often, people with tank plumbing problems will think first to call a plumber. But consider the difference with using a specialist rainwater tank plumber or rainwater professional. As with any other service, using a specialist means the difference in the speed of service to identify and rectify specific water tank problems and being assured of the best outcome.
Specialist rainwater tank plumbing professionals are able to identify specific rainwater tank problems quickly, offer expert advice for optimising your rainwater harvesting system and implement solutions while minimising the cost to you.
Water Tactics wide experience with installing rainwater tanks, water tank cleaning and maintenance services ensure that our operators can quickly identify any problems or inefficiencies with your tank system. We work with you to provide rainwater tank plumbing solutions in order to achieve optimal rainwater harvesting system operation and maximise your rainwater capture and storage.
As tank plumbing experts, we have worked with many customers to modify and improve their rainwater harvesting as well as rectifying problem tank systems.
Common tank problems include overflowing from the inlet; leaking rainwater tank; overflow blockage; smelly rainwater; discolored tank water and mosquitoes or midges in the tank. Other tank plumbing problems often occur when rainwater tank pumps, Rainbank, Waterswitch or tank topup systems are not installed correctly. Often these frustrating problems can be easily rectified. Not-so-common problems include severe tank water contamination (often as a result of poor tank construction and/or installation) and inundation of underground tanks by floodwater.
Water Tactics is a member of the Master Plumbers Association of Queensland (MPAQ) We work in conjunction with other plumbers and expert water professionals to provide a full range of services including:
- internal pipework camera inspections to detect pipe breakages and locate pipe leaks
- pressure testing rainwater tank wet systems
- scientific laboratory water testing when definitive identification of water contamination is required
- rainwater filtration and water treatment advice
So if you are looking for specialist rainwater tank plumbing services in Brisbane, call Water Tactics on 33248774 and we’ll be happy to help.
Water Tactics recently attended a CSIRO research workshop on rainwater tank maintenance in Brisbane. The aim of the workshop was to canvass the opinions of various stakeholders in the rainwater industry as to how best to ensure the longevity of rainwater harvesting systems. This issue is critical in order that future water security policies based on supplementation of the recticulated water supply by rainwater can rely on the projected contribution afforded by existing and future rainwater tank installations.
At the basis of the workshop discussion was the fact that all rainwater storage systems require some level of maintenance in order to ensure longevity of the system and to ensure the quality of the stored rainwater.
The strategies examined ranged from public education campaigns to encourage DIY maintenance right through to compulsory registration and inspection of tanks. There was also debate on the more technical aspects of rainwater system design and implementation, aiming to improve the quality of rainwater harvesting installations and facilitate ongoing tank maintenance.
Our participation in the workshop focused on a strategy of allowing the public to monitor and maintain responsibility for their own rainwater systems while pointing out that governments need to do more in educating and empowering tank owners to maintain their tanks.
In support of this approach, we are of the opinion that:
- Rainwater tank installations and tank owners are unique and diverse. Any attempt to regulate and legislate some a diverse sector of the community is likely to be difficult, expensive and probably ineffective.
- Generally, people are more motivated by positive messages that fear or negativity.
- If tank owners are acknowledged and commended for the contribution they are making to water conservation, there will be more motivation to protect the longevity of their rainwater systems.
- In an increasingly regulated society, the threat of compulsory inspection is more likely to result people abandoning rainwater harvesting.
- Currently, the majority of rainwater systems are working effectively so the best approach would be to work with the majority instead of trying to regulate or legislate for the minority situation i.e. failed tank systems.
- Regardless of the quality of installation, all tanks systems need to be monitored and maintained. Tank maintenance is not complex. A rainwater system is just another household/property component for which preventative maintenance is beneficial.
In order to effect this, we consider there should be:
- Acknowledgement that everyone with a functional rainwater tank is contributing to overall water conservation and that this contribution is valued at all times – not only during periods of drought.
- Public education regarding the necessity to monitor and maintain rainwater tanks.
- Promotion of rainwater tank maintenance as part of normal household maintenance.
- Quality information to allow DIY maintenance with back-up support and access to expert assistance in case of problems.
- Handover information kits for those purchasing a property with a rainwater harvesting system already installed.
The next phase following the CSIRO research workshop on rainwater tank maintenance is to take the proposed strategies to sectors of the community to gather data on their response to the various suggestions.
CSIRO (Australian Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation) is currently conducting research into the environmental impact of rainwater harvesting systems.
The research – being conducted in Victoria - aims to assist with optimising the design and implementation of rainwater harvesting systems to minimise energy use and environmental impact. Research outcomes are due towards the end of 2011.
As stated on the CSIRO website: “Rainwater harvesting is playing an increasingly important role in urban water supply” and hence the need to ensure that maximum benefits are derived with minimal environmental impact.
You can read more about this research intothe environmental impact of rainwater harvesting systems on the CSIRO website.
When we are called out to clean a rainwater tank, the first step is always to thoroughly inspect the rainwater harvesting system to identify any potential issues which may have led to degradation of the quality of the captured and/or stored water and to recommend any system improvements to alleviate future issues.
Not to say we always find issues. Most tank owners are confident maintaining their rainwater systems and call us out when they have noticed a sediment build-up, indicating that it is time for a tank clean (about every 2-3 years as a rule).
One common misconception to note: to clean a water tank, it does not have to be empty. We prefer if there is some water in the bottom of the tank (the amount varies depending on the capacity of the tank) or we can clean the tank when it is full. Our cleaning process operates with minimal water loss under normal circumstances.
If the tank is already empty, we can still clean it. But if you know your tank requires cleaning, don’t wait until it is completely empty. Best to have the tank clean and ready for the next rainfall capture.
The basic process of how to clean a water tank involves:
- Removal of the sludge layer from the bottom of the tank
- Filtering the remaining water to removed suspended particles
- Sanitising the water using a non-chlorine food-grade water disinfectant
Full details can be found on our tank cleaning page.
And of course, our tank cleaning service also includes inspection and advice or just a chance to talk over any queries you have about your rainwater system or water filtration options.
Our view is that it is equally important to help the customer better understand their entire rainwater harvesting system to eliminate future problems and increase efficiency as it is to clean the tank.
If you want to know more about how to clean a rainwater tank, just call us on 07 333248774
People often contact us when they have noticed dirty rainwater and/or contaminated rainwater. The first thing to do in any case is to undertake a thorough investigation of the rainwater harvesting system to ascertain what is causing the rainwater contamination or giving the appearance of ‘dirty rainwater‘.
Dirty looking rainwater can simply be caused by tannins from vegetation breakdown which have ’stained’ the water. While this does not necessarily indicate a serious problem, rainwater tainted by tannins is unsightly and can cause staining of laundry and plumbing fixtures. There are ways to remove tannin from rainwater if it is not possible to eliminate the source.
Tank water will also appear dirty if built-up sediment from the bottom of the tank is being drawn through the outlet. In this case, we would recommend our tank cleaning service.
Rainwater contamination is generally a more serious problem depending on the source of the contamination. Contaminated water may or may not be discoloured but will generally result in an odour or ‘smelly tank water‘. Contamination may occur due to:
- Bacterial contamination due to dead birds, animals, rodents entering the tank or on the rainwater catchment
- Faecal matter on the rainwater catchment washing into the tank
- Groundwater entering underground tanks or wet/charged systems via pipe breakage or incorrect installation
- Cross-contamination from the sewerage system (rare – but this has occurred due to poor installation)
In many cases, we are able to save the majority of the water and restore the health of the tank. However, in cases of severe rainwater contamination, we may recommend draining the water then thoroughly clean and sanitise the tank.
If you are concerned about dirty rainwater or contaminated rainwater, give us a call on 07 33248774 and talk it over with us.
The Hendra virus was a major topic of discussion in the national media this week with some reports broaching the question “Can Hendra virus exist in water tanks?” due to rainwater catchments being contaminated with bat and flying fox droppings.
One program on Brisbane ABC radio (ABC 612 Mornings 28/7/11) interviewed a tank cleaning company representative and sought a range of views from tank owners on this topic. While drawing no conclusions about the virus itself in relation to tank water, the suggestion of possible association has the potential to instill an element of doubt and fear.
Quite often, the initial alarming story-line is all the general public will ‘hear’. There is no current evidence of the Hendra virus being found in rainwater tanks or even that the disease can be transmitted via water. So far, this is a precautionary query only because so little is really known about this rare and deadly disease. To keep this issue in perspective, a few points must be considered:
- Health authorities admit that they do not fully understand the Hendra virus or its transmission but it is thought that the disease is transmitted by direct animal-to-animal contact. Further research is ongoing.
- Some areas of government have already considered and investigated this possibility in rural areas. Rockhampton Regional Council has published a document addressing the issues of flying foxes and rainwater tanks and is available via the Council’s website. See http://www.rockhamptonregion.qld.gov.au/Council_Services/Animal_Management The Council makes recommendations to keep rainwater safe for drinking including regular tank maintenance and water treatment.
- Rainwater has been and will continue to be the sole source of household water supply for countless people in areas where there is no reticulated water supply. Proper management of rainwater harvesting systems ensures a safe and sustainable water supply.
While it is vital to investigate and assess any possible health risk in relation to all water supplies, it is equally important to ensure that any misinformation is addressed and that we don’t allow unfounded fears to detract from the important contribution rainwater harvesting makes to environmental sustainability.
Note: Water Tactics do not recommend drinking tank water in areas where a potable water supply is available. Tank water used for drinking should be adequately treated and/or filtered to remove any potential contaminants.
The National Rainwater and Greywater Initiative (NGRI) is officially ending. An announcement made on May 10 by the Australian Government marked the end of the federally-funded rebates for installation of household rainwater and greywater systems.
Householders who purchased systems prior to May 10 2011 may still apply for the rebate but applications must be received before November 10 2011.
The NRGI guidelines and application form are available via the Department of sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities website www.environment.gov.au/water/programs/nrgi/index.html or assistance can be sought by calling 1800 218 478 or sending an email to email@example.com.