environment sustainability

South African legislation has some catching up to do when it comes to rainwater harvesting

As the world increasingly turns its attention to the scarcity of water as its next major environmental and sustainability challenge, forward-thinking nations are passing laws that make rainwater harvesting systems mandatory for commercial and residential properties.

These systems allow home-owners, businesses and industry to collect or ‘harvest’ rainwater from roofs and storm-water run-off, and store it for future use. This prevents water from being lost to evaporation and transpiration, protects river ecology from too much storm-water overflow and, most importantly, saves a significant amount of energy and costs used to purify water for human consumption.

“When one considers that only 10% of water, purified at monstrous expense and carbon footprint, is used for drinking and cooking, while the rest is flushed down toilets, used to wash cars or irrigate gardens, it seems absurd that rainwater harvesting hasn’t been made mandatory before now. The waste is simply staggering,” says Sean Dowds, rainwater harvesting expert and founder of South African company, Rain Harvesting Systems (RHS).

However, while South Africa is starting to focus greater attention on the pressing need to conserve water, it still lags behind its international counterparts in passing laws to ensure that citizens, commerce and industry are more water-savvy.

“In this regard, we have a great deal to learn from nations like the United States, Australia, India and Germany, which lead the way with legislation that makes rainwater harvesting systems compulsory,” Dowds adds.

As one of the most water-scarce countries on earth, its unsurprising that Australia leads the way in rainwater harvesting systems technology and legislation. Stipulations for residential and commercial buildings are prescriptive and highly specific, detailing where and for which uses rainwater systems must be plumbed back into the building. New buildings need to meet minimum environmental and sustainability standards, of which the installation of rainwater harvesting systems is an important part.

New Delhi is just one Indian city where such systems have been mandatory for years. New residential and commercial buildings cannot be constructed unless they meet the minimum rainwater harvesting system requirements, and stringent new laws are being passed all the time across the country.

Many forward-thinking nations have also put in place innovative tax rebate systems that incentivise and reward citizens for making use of naturally-available rainwater.

In the dry American ‘desert states’ of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, for example, such legislation dates back as far as 2001. Arizonan residents can claim a 25% tax credit on the cost of these systems, while the Texas Tax Code allows for tax exemption on all or part of the value of a property on which water conservation modifications have been made.

Rain taxes in Germany include the collection of fees for the amount of impervious surface cover on properties that don’t allow rainwater to seep back into the ground. As a result, residents are highly incentivised to convert their impervious surfaces to porous ones that result in less run-off.

“Its clear from these examples that nations that are serious about finding a solution to a growing water shortage crisis are willing to put legislation in place to bring about a change in the way people think about and use water resources. Almost universally, they recognise the value of rainwater harvesting systems as part of the solution,” says Dowds

The need for such legislation is no less pressing in South Africa, where less than 15% of the rain that falls ever makes it to rivers, dams and lakes. The rest is lost to evaporation and transpiration. “This conversion rate is the lowest in the world and has led the World Bank to refer to South Africa’s economic development as ‘hostage to our hydrology’,” Dowds concludes.

About Rain Harvesting Systems

Rain Harvesting Systems provides elegant, eco-friendly, reliable and cost-effective solutions for people and organisations who want to make better use of freely-available rainwater. It installs a wide range of rainwater harvesting products to the residential, commercial, industrial, architectural and property development market. The company uses state-of-the-art, internationally recognised brands that have been tailored for local needs.

Although people have been harvesting rainwater for thousands of years, it is only recently, in the wake of a growing global water crisis, that sophisticated and well-engineered systems have been developed. They allow home owners, businesses and industry to collect or ‘harvest’ rainwater from roof and storm-water run-off, and store it for future use in irrigation, clothes washing, toilet flushing and bathing. Properly treated, it can also serve as an emergency source of drinking water.

For more information contact:

Sean Dowds

Rain Harvesting Systems

+27 (0)86 100 RAIN

+27 (0)82 322 2377

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