Bob Miodonski

Almost five years ago I wrote a column that emphasized the importance of good system design for the capture, storage and transport of recycled water. Without proper design, I noted, systems that reuse graywater and rainwater can create health hazards that far outweigh any green benefits.

By 2008, most of the plumbing industry had seen the light on the benefits of green buildings. I saw your role growing as building owners relied on your design expertise to transform sustainable construction concepts into reality.

“This next phase is going to get messy,” I wrote then. “You’ll have to sort through conflicting information from different sources by becoming as knowledgeable as you can be about green buildings.”

It appears that some of this has come to pass. Two competing standards on the design of rainwater catchment systems are the most recent example.

The International Code Council and American Society of Plumbing Engineers have issued statements on the rainwater standard each is developing. Each group hopes the American National Standards Institute will designate its proposal as a national standard.

Both put a concern for public safety at the forefront of their motivation for developing a rainwater standard. And, I believe that’s the case.

ICC says it is “continuing to move forward with resources that will facilitate expanded application of rainwater harvesting systems, and ensure the preservation of health and safety while saving water. ICC Standard 805 will apply to the design, installation and maintenance of rainwater collection systems intended to collect, store, treat, distribute, and utilize rainwater for potable and non-potable applications.”

ASPE has developed its standard with the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association  with sponsorship support from the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials. ASPE states that “quality design standards are critical for protecting the health of those who use water from these installations in potable and non-potable applications. ARSCA/ASPE 63 is designed to assist engineers, designers, plumbers, builders/developers, local government and end users in safely implementing a rainwater catchment system.”

Proponents of the two standards are engaging in a fair amount of back and forth about which standard came first, which one does a better job of serving the public good and, ultimately, which one ANSI should make a national standard.

One argument contends that competition between two standards would benefit the rainwater catchment industry because it would raise awareness of system design, operation and maintenance among plumbing professionals and others. That scenario could happen.

Former ARCSA President Bob Boulware, P.E., makes a counter-argument.

“This is not that big of an industry,” he told me. “One standard would help the industry, which is still developing. Revisions need to be made in the future to what we proposed. At the end of day, we need a proper way to collect, store and transport rainwater.”

In an ideal world, we would agree that one standard would bring more clarity than two. We encourage all parties to work toward that end.

If that fails to happen – and it appears likely now that it will – we agree with Boulware that engineers need to do their homework on reusing rainwater. That includes learning about the technology and how rainwater systems are designed in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, United Kingdom and Canada.

Sorting through conflicting information from different sources and becoming as knowledgeable as you can about rainwater catchment has not changed in the last five years.