Climate change, floods, drought: Ancient system makes a comeback


Among green solutions to climate change, rainwater harvesting stands out for its potential to address two sides of a water paradox – flooding that destroys critical infrastructure, as well as drought conditions that threaten freshwater supplies. The practice dates back more than 4,000 years to early Roman and Mayan civilizations. In its simplest form, it involves collecting water as it falls from the sky into barrels, so the water can be saved for later use. When implemented at scale, the tanks can aid in overall water conservation.

During the 2002 drought in Santa Fe, New Mexico, water was in such short supply that the city shut off irrigation to community parks, and Santa Fe High School let its baseball fields die. That’s when the school’s baseball coach put in a request for the school district’s first rainwater harvesting cistern. Since then, the district has installed tanks at five other schools that together can capture more than 500,000 gallons.  

School districts are big resource consumers, says Lisa Randall, the sustainability program coordinator for Santa Fe Public Schools. “That, to me, means we have a big responsibility to our students and our community and the planet.” 

Why We Wrote This

As weather extremes swing from flood to drought, sometimes in the same place, a 4,000-year-old system of rainwater storage holds promise – and a way for one person, one school, and one city to have a global impact.

ST. LOUIS

In one Texas suburb, a battle of rainwater harvesting tanks is on. During a neighborhood garden tour in May, Kyle Peavy spotted Richard Townsend’s 260-gallon tank and decided to go even bigger. Just two months later, Mr. Peavy installed his own rainwater harvesting system – four times the size. 

“I’m both proud and slightly envious,” says Mr. Townsend of Mr. Peavy’s system.

The two neighbors use the tanks to water their backyard gardens. And while plants like rainwater better than sink water, the men installed these water systems for another reason besides gardening. Both see rainwater harvesting as a practical way to respond to water scarcity. They’re not alone.  

Why We Wrote This

As weather extremes swing from flood to drought, sometimes in the same place, a 4,000-year-old system of rainwater storage holds promise – and a way for one person, one school, and one city to have a global impact.

Rainwater harvesting dates back more than 4,000 years to early Roman and Mayan civilizations. In its simplest form, it involves collecting water as it falls from the sky into barrels, so the water can be saved for later use. Today, this ancient solution is seeing a resurgence among homeowners, businesses, school districts, and at least one church. 

Among green solutions to climate change, rainwater harvesting stands out in its potential to address two sides of a water paradox – flooding that destroys critical infrastructure, as well as drought conditions that threaten freshwater supplies. 



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