New immigrant looks to make rainwater harvesting popular

A moderate sized house could collect 50 cubic meters a year.

January 20, 2010 11:49
3 minute read.
A screen shot of the 'Geshem Artzenu' Web site.

Geshem Artzenu website 248. (photo credit: Screenshot)

When Eric Aiken, 47, a caterer in Florida for many years, decided to make aliya with his family, he began to look for a new way to help the country. He stumbled across an ancient idea in a modern format: rainwater harvesting.

"Rainwater harvesting has been done for millennia and modern versions are in use in Germany, Australia and the US. Several [American] states even offer tax rebates for rainwater collection systems. Here in Israel, though, it's totally off people's radar," he told The Jerusalem Post recently.

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With five years of drought behind us and less rain falling every year, storing what precipitation does fall may be an idea whose time has come.

Rainwater harvesting is relatively simple, and the water can be used for washing machines, toilets and gardens, Aiken said. It is also used for drinking water in some countries, but Israel has very strict regulations that do not allow for that.

After doing his research and talking to experts around the world, Aiken and his family made aliya to Efrat five months ago, and he's starting to get his new company, Geshem Artzenu, off the ground. The firm offers both the equipment for and installation of rainwater collection systems.

"We can import a system in a month and install it in a day," Aiken said.

The system consists of a tank to store the water, pumps and filters, and he will install gutters and a spout to catch the water rolling off the roof if a house doesn't have them. Certified plumbers attach the system to the house's indoor plumbing.

Aiken is offering a 6,000-liter collapsible tank, "so that you can fold it up and put it away during the dry season. If you need a second tank, you can connect it in about five minutes." Hard plastic tanks are also available.

The cost for a system is generally under NIS 10,000, but "come to me for an estimate," Aiken suggested.

So how much water could you collect with such a system? It depends where you live and how big your house is.

A moderate-sized house could collect 50 cubic meters of water per year, a large house or one in the North perhaps double that, Aiken writes on his Web site. Public buildings could also install a tank with Geshem Artzenu.

Aiken is also interested in tapping into the kibbutz and moshav market, because the roofs of the farm buildings are potentially gigantic collection devices.

"Farms have an enormous catchment area and they could use the rainwater to water the livestock," he said. According to his Web site, each large animal enclosure could potentially collect 1,000 cu.m. a year.

Aiken is setting up his company against the backdrop of rising water prices and with drought levies hovering in the background. He is confident that such systems are both environmentally friendly and cost-effective over the long term.

"All you need to do is clean out the filters two to three times a year. Everything else is automatic," he said.

Such systems require the approval of the local authority's engineer, the Health Ministry told the Post.

Acting under the Planning and Building Law, specifically the regulations governing sanitation devices, the first option is to stream the collected rainwater into the community's channeling system. However, if a private homeowner wants to use the water himself, the engineer would have to address that request, the ministry said.

The Water Authority would also have to give its approval, since it is in charge of water quotas and rainwater collection systems, the Health Ministry said. The Water Authority did not return a request for clarification since its employees are on an extended labor strike.

Shelef agricultural laboratory manager Oded Jaffe told the Post on Tuesday he had received hundreds of calls from people interested in putting in rainwater collection systems and grey water (shower and toilet water) systems.

"Many have told me they've gone ahead and built such systems," he said.

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