Rainwater harvesting, still a selling point

Though almost all city buildings have RWH structures, many of them do not have proper systems. Large storage, surface water harvesting, conservation, and grey water recycling are key facilities the buyers should look for. FEROZE AHMED reports

A LITTLE more than a year ago, rainwater harvesting was a key selling point for builders and flat promoters. It was a useful branding tool.

Covered car parks, landscapes, power back-ups, security features and fitness centres provided a comfort pitch to lure cash-rich buyers, but rainwater harvesting went beyond. It showed that the builders cared. That they would not wash their hands off post-transaction. That they would not let their customers suffer. An excellent sales pitch. The buyers lapped it up. Then the Government made it mandatory for all buildings to harvest rainwater from the roofs. And RWH stopped being a differentiating factor.

Property advertisements do not carry the green logos anymore. Buyers are still curious about rainwater harvesting but it is not a major ingredient, says RWH consultant and builder, R. Jeyakumar, managing director, Rajparis.

The good news is rainwater harvesting can still be a selling point. Or, from the customer's point of view, a buying factor. Following the Government directive last year, almost all buildings in the city have water harvesting structures. Just that half of them do not work the way they should. Improper rainwater harvesting facilities can even prove dangerous. A well in a West Mambalam apartment caved in, unable to handle high water inflows. A survey of over 300 houses in Gandhi Nagar, Adyar, by the Rain Centre, a rainwater harvesting centre, revealed that about 60 per cent of the houses did not have proper systems. "Only 40 per cent had done it correctly. The rest did not even know what had been done," says Shekar Raghavan of Rain Centre. What buyers can do, rather should do, is check for key facilities in rainwater harvesting structures before making a purchase. The theme should be sustainability. Buyers should look for sumps or large storage facilities, says Mr. Jeyakumar. "A family of five will need 3,000 litres of water for drinking and cooking over five months. In last week's rain (which lasted about two hours), many families were able to collect up to 12,000 litres in large sumps," he says. That can sustain their drinking and cooking needs for over a year. Additional water can be harvested for recharging ground water. Surface water harvesting is a crucial but ignored aspect.

"In many complexes, the driveway area is much bigger than the rooftop area," notes Mr. Raghavan. "Even if surface water is not fit for direct consumption, it is great for recharging the ground water.

The soil will filter and purify it naturally." It is mandatory only to harvest rainwater from the roofs, but ignoring water that falls in other areas of an apartment means wasting a majority of the water available.

Look for an open well and adequate recharge facilities. The simplest system available is to channel water from roofs to open wells through filter chambers, maybe after saving enough of it in sumps. If open wells are not available, complexes should at least have recharge wells to ensure adequate ground water. This can be accessed later using borewells.

Buyers should also ascertain from the builder or promoter if the pipes (percolation pits) go deep enough into the soil to reach percolation area. This may be a little advanced for Chennai just yet, but the mantra of the future should be conservation and grey water recycling, says M.N. Mitra, managing trustee, TRY Charitable Trust, an organisation working on rainwater harvesting.

Waters from baths, kitchens and washing can be recycled and used in the toilets for flushing, and even for gardening.

An average family uses about 60 per cent of the total daily consumption of water for flushing. Only a percentage of the total daily consumption is used for drinking and cooking, which leaves a great amount of water for recycling.

R. Ramani, a water harvesting buff who has converted his home in Korattur into a real-time RWH model, says the harvesting and recycling systems in his house fetch him about 4 lakh litres of water a year.

"I have not relied on Metrowater or bought even a drop of water from tankers for the past 15 years," he says.

The summer of 2004 might just be the time to start being choosy about rainwater harvesting systems in apartments.


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