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United Nations Environment Programme
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Newsletter and Technical Publications

Rainwater Harvesting And Utilisation

An Environmentally Sound Approach for Sustainable
Urban Water Management: An Introductory Guide for Decision-Makers


Examples of Rainwater Harvesting and Utilisation Around the World

Singapore
Singapore, which has limited land resources and a rising demand for water, is on the lookout for alternative sources and innovative methods of harvesting water. Almost 86% of Singapore’s population lives in high-rise buildings. A light roofing is placed on the roofs to act as catchment. Collected roof water is kept in separate cisterns on the roofs for non-potable uses. A recent study of an urban residential area of about 742 ha used a model to determine the optimal storage volume of the rooftop cisterns, taking into consideration non-potable water demand and actual rainfall at 15-minute intervals. This study demonstrated an effective saving of 4% of the water used, the volume of which did not have to be pumped from the ground floor. As a result of savings in terms of water, energy costs, and deferred capital, the cost of collected roof water was calculated to be S$0.96 against the previous cost of S$1.17 per cubic meter.

A marginally larger rainwater harvesting and utilisation system exists in the Changi Airport. Rainfall from the runways and the surrounding green areas is diverted to two impounding reservoirs. One of the reservoirs is designed to balance the flows during the coincident high runoffs and incoming tides, and the other reservoir is used to collect the runoff. The water is used primarily for non-potable functions such fire-fighting drills and toilet flushing. Such collected and treated water accounts for 28 to 33% of the total water used, resulting in savings of approximately S$ 390,000 per annum.

Tokyo, Japan
In Tokyo, rainwater harvesting and utilisation is promoted to mitigate water shortages, control floods, and secure water for emergencies.

The Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo-wrestling Arena, built in 1985 in Sumida City, is a well-known facility that utilises rainwater on a large scale. The 8,400 m2 rooftop of this arena is the catchment surface of the rainwater utilisation system. Collected rainwater is drained into a 1,000 m3 underground storage tank and used for toilet flushing and air conditioning. Sumida City Hall uses a similar system. Following the example of Kokugikan, many new public facilities have begun to introduce rainwater utilisation systems in Tokyo.

"Rojison", a simple and unique rainwater utilisation facility at the community level in Tokyo, Japan.

At the community level, a simple and unique rainwater utilisation facility, “Rojison”, has been set up by local residents in the Mukojima district of Tokyo to utilise rainwater collected from the roofs of private houses for garden watering, fire-fighting and drinking water in emergencies.

To date, about 750 private and public buildings in Tokyo have introduced rainwater collection and utilisation systems. Rainwater utilisation is now flourishing at both the public and private levels.

Berlin, Germany
In October 1998, rainwater utilization systems were introduced in Berlin as part of a large scale urban re-development, the DaimlerChrysler Potsdamer Platz, to control urban flooding, save city water and create a better micro climate. Rainwater falling on the rooftops (32,000 m2) of 19 buildings is collected and stored in a 3500 m3 rainwater basement tank. It is then used for toilet flushing, watering of green areas (including roofs with vegetative cover) and the replenishment of an artificial pond.

In another project at Belss-Luedecke-Strasse building estate in Berlin, rainwater from all roof areas (with an approximate area of 7,000 m2) is discharged into a separate public rainwater sewer and transferred into a cistern with a capacity of 160 m3, together with the runoff from streets, parking spaces and pathways (representing an area of 4,200 m2). The water is treated in several stages and used for toilet flushing as well as for garden watering. The system design ensures that the majority of the pollutants in the initial flow are flushed out of the rainwater sewer into the sanitary sewer for proper treatment in a sewage plant. It is estimated that 58% of the rainwater can be retained locally through the use of this system. Based on a 10-year simulation, the savings of potable water through the utilisation of rainwater are estimated to be about 2,430 m3 per year, thus preserving the groundwater reservoirs of Berlin by a similar estimated amount.

Both of these systems not only conserve city water, but also reduce the potential for pollutant discharges from sewerage systems into surface waters that might result from stormwater overflows. This approach to the control of non point sources of pollution is an important part of a broader strategy for the protection of surface water quality in urban areas.

Thailand
Example of the rainwater jar used in Thailand.

Storing rainwater from rooftop run-off in jars is an appropriate and inexpensive means of obtaining high quality drinking water in Thailand. Prior to the introduction of jars for rainwater storage, many communities had no means of protecting drinking water from waste and mosquito infestation. The jars come in various capacities, from 100 to 3,000 litres and are equipped with lid, faucet, and drain. The most popular size is 2,000 litres, which costs 750 Baht, and holds sufficient rainwater for a six-person household during the dry season, lasting up to six months.

Two approaches are used for the acquisition of water jars. The first approach involves technical assistance and training villagers on water jar fabrication. This approach is suitable for many villages, and encourages the villagers to work cooperatively. Added benefits are that this environmentally appropriate technology is easy to learn, and villagers can fabricate water jars for sale at local markets. The second approach is applicable to those villages that do not have sufficient labour for making water jars. It involves access to a revolving loan fund to assist these villages in purchasing the jars. For both approaches, ownership and self-maintenance of the water jars are important. Villagers are also trained on how to ensure a safe supply of water and how to extend the life of the jars.

Initially implemented by the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) in Thailand, the demonstrated success of the rainwater jar project has encouraged the Thai government to embark on an extensive national program for rainwater harvesting.

Indonesia
In Indonesia, groundwater is becoming more scarce in large urban areas due to reduced water infiltration. The decrease of groundwater recharge in the cities is directly proportional to the increase in the pavement and roof area. In addition, high population density is has brought about high groundwater consumption. Recognising the need to alter the drainage system, the Indonesian government introduced a regulation requiring that all buildings have an infiltration well. The regulation applies to two-thirds of the territory, including the Special Province of Yogyakarta, the Capital Special Province of Jakarta, West Java and Central Java Province. It is estimated that if each house in Java and Madura had its own infiltration well, the water deficit of 53% by the year of 2000 would be reduced to 37%, which translates into a net savings of 16% through conservation.

Capiz Province, the Philippines
In the Philippines, a rainwater harvesting programme was initiated in 1989 in Capiz Province with the assistance of the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC). About 500 rainwater storage tanks were constructed made of wire-framed ferro-cement, with capacities varying from 2 to 10 m3. The construction of the tanks involved building a frame of steel reinforcing bars (rebar) and wire mesh on a sturdy reinforced concrete foundation. The tanks were then plastered both inside and outside, thereby reducing their susceptibility to corrosion relative to metal storage tanks.

The rainwater harvesting programme in Capiz Province was implemented as part of an income generation initiative. Under this arrangement, loans were provided to fund the capital cost of the tanks and related agricultural operations. Loans of US$200, repayable over a three-year period, covered not only the cost of the tank but also one or more income generating activities such as the purchase and rearing of pigs, costing around US$25 each. Mature pigs can sell for up to US$90 each, providing an income opportunity for generating that could provide sufficient income to repay the loan. This type of innovative mechanism for financing rural water supplies can help avoid the requirement for water resources development subsidies.

Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, rainwater collection is seen as a viable alternative for providing safe drinking water in arsenic affected areas. Since 1997, about 1000 rainwater harvesting systems have been installed in the country, primarily in rural areas, by the NGO Forum for Drinking Water Supply & Sanitation. This Forum is the national networking and service delivery agency for NGOs, community-based organisations and the private sector concerned with the implementation of water and sanitation programmes in unserved and underserved rural and urban communities. Its primary objective is to improve access to safe, sustainable, affordable water and sanitation services and facilities in Bangladesh.

The rainwater harvesting tanks in Bangladesh vary in capacity from 500 litres to 3,200 litres, costing from Tk. 3000-Tk.8000 (US$ 50 to US$ 150). The composition and structure of the tanks also vary, and include ferro-cement tanks, brick tanks, RCC ring tanks, and sub-surface tanks.

The rainwater that is harvested is used for drinking and cooking and its acceptance as a safe, easy-to-use source of water is increasing amongst local users. Water quality testing has shown that water can be preserved for four to five months without bacterial contamination. The NGO Forum has also undertaken some recent initiatives in urban areas to promote rainwater harvesting as an alternative source of water for all household purposes.

Gansu Province, China
Gansu is one of the driest provinces in China. The annual precipitation is about 300 mm, while potential evaporation amounts to 1500-2000 mm. Surface water and groundwater is limited, thus agriculture in the province relies on rainfall and people generally suffer from inadequate supplies of drinking water.

Since the 1980s, research, demonstration and extension projects on rainwater harvesting have been carried out with very positive results. In 1995/96, the “121” Rainwater Catchment Project implemented by the Gansu Provincial Government supported farmers by building one rainwater collection field, two water storage tanks and providing one piece of land to grow cash crops. This project has proven successful in supplying drinking water for 1.3 million people and developing irrigated land for a courtyard economy. As of 2000, a total of 2,183,000 rainwater tanks had been built with a total capacity of 73.1 million m3 in Gansu Province, supplying drinking water for 1.97 million people and supplementary irrigation for 236,400 ha of land.

Rainwater harvesting has become an important option for Gansu Province to supply drinking water, develop rain-fed agriculture and improve the ecosystem in dry areas. Seventeen provinces in China have since adopted the rainwater utilization technique, building 5.6 million tanks with a total capacity of 1.8 billion m3, supplying drinking water for approximately 15 million people and supplemental irrigation for 1.2 million ha of land.

Africa
Although in some parts of Africa rapid expansion of rainwater catchment systems has occurred in recent years, progress has been slower than Southeast Asia. This is due in part to the lower rainfall and its seasonal nature, the smaller number and size of impervious roofs and the higher costs of constructing catchment systems in relation to typical household incomes. The lack of availability of cement and clean graded river sand in some parts of Africa and a lack of sufficient water for construction in others, add to overall cost. Nevertheless, rainwater collection is becoming more widespread in Africa with projects currently in Botswana, Togo, Mali, Malawi, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Tanzania among others. Kenya is leading the way. Since the late 1970s, many projects have emerged in different parts of Kenya, each with their own designs and implementation strategies. These projects, in combination with the efforts of local builders called “fundis” operating privately and using their own indigenous designs, have been responsible for the construction of many tens of thousands of rainwater tanks throughout the country. Where cheap, abundant, locally available building materials and appropriate construction skills and experience are absent; ferro-cement tanks have been used for both surface and sub-surface catchment.

Rainwater tanks constructed by local builders called "fundis" in Kenya.

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Due to inadequate piped water supplies, the University of Dar es Salaam has applied rainwater harvesting and utilisation technology to supplement the piped water supply in some of the newly built staff housing. Rainwater is collected from the hipped roof made with corrugated iron sheets and led into two “foul” tanks, each with a 70-litre capacity. After the first rain is flushed out, the foul tanks are filled up with rainwater. As the foul tanks fill up, settled water in the foul tanks flows to two underground storage tanks with a total capacity of 80,000 litres. Then, the water is pumped to a distribution tank with 400 litres capacity that is connected to the plumbing system of the house. The principles for the operation of this system are: (i) only one underground tank should be filled at a time; (ii) while one tank is being filled, water can be consumed from the other tank, (iii) rainwater should not be mixed with tap water; (iv) underground storage tanks must be cleaned thoroughly when they are empty; (v) in order to conserve water, water should only be used from one distribution tank per day.

Botswana
Thousands of roof catchment and tank systems have been constructed at a number of primary schools, health clinics and government houses throughout Botswana by the town and district councils under the Ministry of Local Government, Land and Housing (MLGLH). The original tanks were prefabricated galvanized steel tanks and brick tanks. The galvanized steel tanks have not performed well, with a short life of approximately 5 years. The brick tanks are unpopular, due to leakage caused by cracks, and high installation costs. In the early 1980s, the MLGLH replaced these tanks in some areas with 10-20 m3 ferro-cement tanks promoted by the Botswana Technology Centre. The experience with ferro-cement tanks in Botswana is mixed; some have performed very well, but some have leaked, possibly due to poor quality control.

Brazil
Over the past decade, many NGOs and grassroots organisations have focused their work on the supply of drinking water using rainwater harvesting, and the irrigation of small-scale agriculture using sub-surface impoundments. In the semi-arid tropics of the north-eastern part of Brazil, annual rainfall varies widely from 200 to 1,000 mm, with an uneven regional and seasonal rainfall pattern. People have traditionally utilised rainwater collected in hand-dug rock catchments and river bedrock catchments.

To address the problem of unreliable rural drinking water supply in north-eastern Brazil, a group of NGOs combined their efforts with government to initiate a project involving the construction of one million rainwater tanks over a five year period, with benefits to 5 million people. Most of these tanks are made of pre-cast concrete plates or wire mesh concrete.

Rainwater harvesting and utilisation is now an integrated part of educational programs for sustainable living in the semi-arid regions of Brazil. The rainwater utilisation concept is also spreading to other parts of Brazil, especially urban areas. A further example of the growing interest in rainwater harvesting and utilisation is the establishment of the Brazilian Rainwater Catchment Systems Association, which was founded in 1999 and held its 3rd Brazilian Rainwater Utilisation Symposium in the fall of 2001.

A tank made of pre-cast concrete plates. A tank made of wire mesh concrete.

Bermuda
The island of Bermuda is located 917 km east of the North American coast. The island is 30 km long, with a width ranging from 1.5 to 3 km. The total area is 53.1 km2. The elevation of most of the land mass is less than 30 m above sea level, rising to a maximum of less than 100 m. The average annual rainfall is 1,470 mm. A unique feature of Bermuda roofs is the wedge-shaped limestone “glides” which have been laid to form sloping gutters, diverting rainwater into vertical leaders and then into storage tanks. Most systems use rainwater storage tanks under buildings with electric pumps to supply piped indoor water. Storage tanks have reinforced concrete floors and roofs, and the walls are constructed of mortar-filled concrete blocks with an interior mortar application approximately 1.5 cm thick. Rainwater utilisation systems in Bermuda are regulated by a Public Health Act which requires that catchments be whitewashed by white latex paint; the paint must be free from metals that might leach into water supplies. Owners must also keep catchments, tanks, gutters, pipes, vents, and screens in good repair. Roofs are commonly repainted every two to three years and storage tanks must be cleaned at least once every six years.

St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, is an island city which is 4.8 km wide and 19 km long. It is situated adjacent to a ridge of mountains which rise to 457 m above sea level. Annual rainfall is in the range of 1,020 to 1,520 mm. A rainwater utilisation system is a mandatory requirement for a residential building permit in St. Thomas. A single-family house must have a catchment area of 112 m2 and a storage tank with 45 m3 capacity. There are no restrictions on the types of rooftop and water collection system construction materials. Many of the homes on St. Thomas are constructed so that at least part of the roof collects rainwater and transports it to storage tanks located within or below the house. Water quality test of samples collected from the rainwater utilisation systems in St. Thomas found that contamination from faecal coliform and Hg concentration was higher than EPA water quality standards, which limits the use of this water to non-potable applications unless adequate treatment is provided.

Island of Hawaii, USA
A wooden water tank in Hawaii, USA

At the U.S. National Volcano Park, on the Island of Hawaii, rainwater utilisation systems have been built to supply water for 1,000 workers and residents of the park and 10,000 visitors per day. The Park’s rainwater utilisation system includes the rooftop of a building with an area of 0.4 hectares, a ground catchment area of more than two hectares, storage tanks with two reinforced concrete water tanks with 3,800 m3 capacity each, and 18 redwood water tanks with 95 m3 capacity each. Several smaller buildings have their own rainwater utilisation systems as well. A water treatment and pumping plant was built to provide users with good quality water.

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