Rainwater Harvesting: Best Practices Guidebook for Canada’s West Coast

Note to Reader:

On December 3, 2013 the Partnership for Water Sustainability and the Irrigation Industry Association of BC (IIABC) are joining forces to co-host a workshop that will explore regulatory requirements, water balance benefits and practical applications of rainwater harvesting design and operation. The workshop is structured as four cascading modules.

In the lead-off module, the team of Chris Midgley, Zachary May and Cate Soroczan will connect dots and paint the “big picture” for rainwater harvesting in BC. They will address the regulatory context that enables, and the opportunities this creates, for innovators and implementers to harvest and utilize rainwater where it falls. They will set the stage for a Town-Hall Sharing & Learning Session titled “What Do You Wonder”. Below is a preview of the perspective that Chris Midgley will provide.

TO REGISTER for the workshop, go to the IIABC website: https://www.irrigationbc.com/irrigation/courses/view_scheduled/119

TO DOWNLOAD a copy of the Program Overview, click on Get Your Mind Into the Gutter: A Workshop on Rainwater Harvesting in British Columbia.



Living Water Smart: Doing Business Differently in British Columbia

Many BC communities are often water-short when demand is greatest. And now our climate is changing. To future-proof communities, the 45 actions and targets in Living Water Smart, British Columbia’s Water Plan establish expectations for doing business differently. This provincial target frames the learning outcomes for the workshop: 50% of new municipal water needs will be acquired through conservation by 2020.

Leading Change on Vancouver Island

The theme for Module A is Living Water Smart: Doing Business Differently to Achieve Provincial Goals and Targets. Chris Midgley will tell the story of how the Regional District Nanaimo (RDN) on Vancouver Island is enabling action on-the-ground by providing good information.

2012_Chris Midgley_RDN_120p“In October 2012, the RDN published the Rainwater Harvesting Best Practices Guidebook, states Chris Midgley, RDN Manager of Energy and Sustainability. “The Guidebook is pragmatic. It strikes a balance between ‘too little versus too technical’ by providing information in a way that helps homeowners, builders, designers and suppliers understand what is required of them.”

About Chris Midgley

For over a decade, Chris Midgley has been a professional practitioner in the field of sustainable development, including work in international development, biodiversity conservation, sustainable urban and neighbourhood design, landscape architecture, and community and strategic planning.

In his current role as Manager of Energy and Sustainability at the Regional District of Nanaimo, Chris is responsible for corporate sustainability initiatives including overseeing the District’s energy management program, promoting conservation and facilitating the organization’s transition to carbon neutral operations.

Chris also leads initiatives and research projects that enhance community sustainability, support green building and enable local climate action as well as economic development programs and corporate strategic planning.

Capture Rain Where It Falls: Rainwater Harvesting in the Regional District of Nanaimo

The RDN’s Rainwater Harvesting Guidebook is a valuable resource for design, installation and maintenance of residential rainwater harvesting (RWH) systems on Canada’s west coast.

The storyline for Chris Midgley’s presentation is built around the original desire on the part of the RDN to develop Alternative Solutions to the Building Code, and how the RDN thinking evolved from a prescriptive approach to a Guidebook approach.

“There are three parts to the story that I will tell at the Rainwater Harvesting Workshop, ” states Chris Midgley. “First, there is the interest on the part of local residents in achieving resiliency, self-sufficiency and water sustainability. Secondly, there is the RDN’s Rainwater Harvesting Rebate Program. Thirdly, there is regulatory evolution. The RDN Guidebook pulled everything together.”

“Whether it is out of interest or due to regulation, it is about how to give homeowners and others the tools they need to be able to act. The approach implemented by the RDN both enables and provides support. By this, I mean that the keeners now have a technical foundation to do the job right; and we have smoothed the process for those who are required to implement rainwater harvesting to achieve water conservation outcomes.”

Context for Guidebook Development

Joe Stanhope, RDN Chair (120p)“The Rainwater Harvesting Guidebook will help residents and professional practitioners to better understand the different types of rainwater harvesting systems, how they are put together, how they function, and the effort required to maintain them,” said RDN Chairperson Joe Stanhope when the Guidebook was released a year ago.

“The Guidebook is an important element in a regional response to our changing climate. We can expect wetter winters, and longer and drier summers. There is already a sense of urgency because our region is experiencing dropping water levels in certain areas, and ecosystems are stressed,” explains Chris Midgley.

“The fundamental distinction between RWH systems is whether they provide Non-Drinkable Water (Outdoor Use), Non-Drinkable Water (Indoor Use) for flushing toilets, or Drinkable Water. The Guidebook addresses all three.”

“Our goal in promoting rainwater harvesting is to reduce the volume of groundwater drawn from aquifers during dry summer months. This will have several beneficial outcomes: sustaining critical baseflow in streams; preventing saltwater intrusion; and increasing residents’ self-sufficiency.”

Rainwater Harvesting Incentive Program

“Residents in the electoral areas of the regional district are often interested in self-sufficiency. This desire leads individuals to tinker with home projects. We were seeing an increasing number of rainwater harvesting systems being installed by homeowners. This provided the impetus for the RDN to implement a Rainwater Harvesting Incentive Program,” reports Chris Midgley.

“The 2013 incentive program rebates up to $450 for a cistern that is rated for potable use and able to collect a minimum of 4,546 litres (1,000 gallons) of rainwater.  In addition, there is up to $300 available for other eligible collection system expenses. This makes a total of $750 available per household for the purchase and installation of a rainwater harvesting system.”

“The goal was to help homeowners and encourage the transition beyond rain barrels. A major consideration driving the decision to implement the rebate program was the concern about groundwater aquifer vulnerability.”

Development Permit Area for Water Conservation

“In May 2008, the ‘Green Communities’ legislation known as Bill 27 amended the Local Government Act and Community Charter,” continues Chris Midgley. “Local governments are now empowered to designate a Development Permit Area (DPA) having the purpose of the establishment of objectives to promote water conservation. This enabling legislation came into effect at the same time as the RDN was implementing the rainwater harvesting rebate program.”

“The first application of this regulatory authority was in the Official Community Plan for the Yellow Point area within the regional district. The Yellow Point Aquifer DPA requires that all new dwelling units within the DPA have rainwater harvesting equipment installed as a means of water conservation.”

“We soon realized that the RDN needed to provide better information so that homeowners would understand what is required of them when installing rainwater harvesting systems. This realization precipitated development of the Rainwater Harvesting Guidebook.”

Inter-Departmental Collaboration Results in Rainwater Harvesting Guidebook

“The Rainwater Harvesting Guidebook was developed through an inter-departmental process that staff from long-term planning, water, building inspection and sustainability,” elaborates Chris Midgley. “As an outcome of this collaboration, we stepped back from a prescriptive ‘how-to-do-it’ approach and adopted a guidelines approach. And that is why the document is called the Rainwater Harvesting Best Practices Guidebook.”

“There has been a great response to the Guidebook. People say they love it. We have appreciated the enthusiastic feedback. The success of the Guidebook is such that it is now the first in what will be the RDN’s Green Guidebook Series. The second will focus on renewable energy.”

Rainwater Harvesting is an Economic Development Opportunity

“There is an economic dimension to rainwater harvesting,” adds Chris Midgley. “The combination of the rebate program and the water conservation requirement is fostering innovation. We are observing a proliferation of business opportunities, with emphasis on a broadening of services to meet a need.”

“The RDN can now track the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems. We know how much we are giving out in rebates. We know who is doing the work. We know the costs of the systems that they are providing. To date in 2013, for example, rebates totalling $18,000 have generated $95,000 in economic activity.”