San Francisco Rolls Out Rainwater Harvesting Drive

San Francisco Rolls Out Rainwater Harvesting Drive

San Francisco has joined a small but growing number of communities that promote rainwater harvesting and clarified city rules to permit capture of the resource for non-potable use.

The city, through its San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, also arranged for a discount of almost 50 percent on rainwater collection barrels that are to be available at $69.99 apiece through a locally owned store chain. The program is hosted by Cole Hardware and subsidized by the SFPUC.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced the initiative on Thursday at the Cesar Chavez Elementary School as a troupe of students bustled about and tended to their school garden using their cache of rainwater.  

Newsom also signed a memorandum of understanding with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the Department of Public Health and the Department of Building Inspection. The arrangement clarified standards for permissible rainwater harvesting and use of rainwater without treatment for outdoor gardening, toilet flushing indoors and purposes that do not involve drinking or other consumption.

San Francisco's move comes just four months after California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a drought in the state — a designation that followed two years of below-average rainfall and low snowmelt runoff.

Drought inspired the city of Santa Fe, N.M., to require rainwater capture systems for new residential construction of 2,500 square feet or larger and for commercial buildings. The city also sponsors a rebate program for rain barrels and other incentives promoting water conservation.

In the area of public policy, regulation of water resources falls largely to states and local water authorities. GreenerBuildings guest columnist Jeff Kray, a partner at the Marten Law Group, wrote in August that Washington state, Arizona, Hawaii, Kentucky, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia are among those considering or already regulating rainwater harvesting.