Over the previous weekend I attended Harrisburg’s Artfest, and one of the more memorable attractions was put on by the Harrisburg Rain Barrel Coalition. There were two representatives running the tent at the time Mary and I visited, thought I failed to get either of their names. I’ve had a a rain collection setup for several years, starting from a series of litter buckets and growing to a fifty-five gallon rain barrel fed directly from a rain pipe. That setup didn’t last terribly long as mud began to seep through my basement walls and onto my basement floor, making the already damp room a fungal hothouse.
In speaking with the rain barrel representatives I learned several things, perhaps most useful of which was the likely reason behind my internal deluge. I also learned a bit about Harrisburg’s EPA non-compliance regarding our overflow measures and how, due to that, rain collecting might be thought of as not only an innocuous, personal gardening improvement, but a positive benefit well beyond a mere selection of the lesser of two evils.
In reverse order: Rain collection provides two obvious benefits, one to the gardener and one to his water service. The gardener who collects water now has an immediately available, free reservoir from which to water his plants. His water provider now has several gallons fewer drain on its processing plants as the gardener is no longer using water from the tap, that is, water that’s been through the complex and costly process of purification. The downside that I see with water collection is that one is keeping, sometimes for months, several dozen to several hundred gallons of water out of the water cycle. Individually this isn’t a big deal, but were every dweller of the region to do it the very seas might well dry (perhaps an exaggeration). Given this larger-view worry, I collect my water with some small guilt, with a sense that what I’m doing is bad, but better than relying on tap water.
Apparently, I’d felt guilty for nothing. Harrisburg has a very old drainage system comprised of what amounts to holes in the ground with pipes that run directly to the river. These type of sewers were very common a hundred years ago but have since been banned by the EPA due to their expediation of pollutants into the water table. Currently, the EPA allows for four overflow dumps. Harrisburg has on annual average sixty. Last year it had eighty two. These back flows block streets, erode support structures and carry untreated sewage from treatment centers directly into the Susquehanna river, an already at risk body of water. Given all this, any water conserved for drier days and any additional to the maximum capacity spared the city sewers is of great benefit to the local environment.
As such, save all that you can, however you can.