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Rainwater Harvesting
Alex Steffen, 20 Sep 04

Urban rainwater harvesting is the practice of catching rainfall and storing it for later use (where it becomes a resource), rather than sending it into storm sewers (where it becomes pollution). Seems utter common sense, but it's still very much an emerging field. An upcoming conference hopes to brig together some of the foresmost thinkers herebouts and find next steps:

"This conference brings together people working in rainwater harvesting including system designers, architects and engineers, home owners and developers, installers and builders, state and local government regulators and others, to talk about their common interests, share their knowledge, network, and lay the foundation for expansion of rainwater harvesting as part of sustainable community development in the Northwest."

(thanks to ally Paul Fleming for the heads-up!)

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This particular conference is focused on rainwater harvesting in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. A national U.S. conference will be held in Seattle in July '05, and an international conference will be held in New Delhi in November '05 (I think).

Posted by: paul on 20 Sep 04

Thanks, Paul, for the clarification!

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 20 Sep 04

Hmm, "emerging" field? I think not. More like re-emerging.
Water harvesting has been around for millenia, especially in water-starved places like the Middle East. The Mesopotamians would carve ingenious tracks into mountains, little groves that would capture rainfall which in turn would be funneled into grand cisterns. This was just one of many amazing innovations, elegant and simple, but incredibly enduring. These techniques were mostly "lost" or put aside for generations after colonialists or western-educated elites declared these methods too primitive and out-dated, introducing in their place water pumps and drills to tap into deep aquifers in the ground. Decades later, only after it became clear that these technologies were proving to be more harmful over the long haul -- with often tragic and ecologically catastrophic consequences -- were these old techniques rediscovered (often with the help of Western-educated elites.) The story of what happened to the Balinese rice-water cult is another tale like this, equally fascinating because it reveals the thousand-year old intelligence embedded in their system of water management; and equally dismaying at the arrogance and folly of Harvard educated specialists (both western and Javanese) who tried to destroy this knowledge through strong incentives and occasionally by force.

I think the most interesting thing about these developments is how these old methods are being combined with new technology. For instance, computer modeling of the water flows in the Balinese system "proved" to Jakarta that the Balinese soil productivity was being killed forever by the new techniques while the old methods increased the biochemical stability of the rice paddies. So this is classic "bricolage" in a Levi-Strauss sense, an important and most common category for innovation. I also think it's good to acknowledge this borrowing of the past -- the past always a fruitful place to look for good ideas, time being a good filter -- because this is one way to break from the dangerous, hubristic patterns within the top-down expert model, a mental map which has created many of these problems and why many technologies have negative unintended consequences.

Most of the good overviews on the future of water have these tales. For example, "Water" by Marc de Villiers and some good chapters in "Good News for a Change" by David Suzuki. ]

Posted by: NIcole Boyer on 21 Sep 04

Harvard goobers had far less to do with it then religius goons and local buricrats.

Basicly both would try to become a monopoly on water by destroying/discrediting the old sources of water while promoting thier "healthy" source in the form of a well.

The harvard people on the other hand know its a stupid idea because many of the places have little or no refreshing source to refill the underground aquafer. They are far more likely to suggest piping it in from a plentyful source elewhere.

Posted by: wintermane on 23 Sep 04



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