The Sunny Side of Rainwater Harvesting for Property Managers


Photo via gilintx via Flickr CC

When the skies open and the rain pours, apartment properties and property management companies have a perfect opportunity to take advantage of one of Nature’s greatest resources through rainwater harvesting.

Rainwater harvesting is simply collecting rain water from roofs or other elevated areas where runoff typically occurs. Water may be collected above or below ground using simple or sophisticated recovery systems. Reclaimed rainwater may be used for anything from drinking water to irrigating large or small areas on a property, including multifamily.

The water is free; the expense is building and maintaining the collection process.

Water Reclamation for Multifamily Properties Makes Sense

In drought-prone areas or those across the country that receive little rainfall, rainwater harvesting is an opportunity to take advantage of a natural resource and help minimize use of treated water. In Texas and the Southwest, water reclamation makes sense for any size property.

According to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, 30-50 percent of total water in Texas is used for landscape irrigation. Add the latest weather conditions – just take a step outside or look at the latest weather map and you’ll be reminded at that the Lone Star State and its neighbors are in significant drought – and rainwater capture becomes particularly inviting. Because public water supplies in 2011 and 2012 sustained significant depletion, captured rainfall is reason enough to do the Texas Two-Step.

Apartments, townhouses, and commercial properties that reclaim water are popping up on the landscapes from Oregon to Maine to Texas. Supplying an irrigation system with harvested rainwater is a great way to add to an apartment property’s green resume while better greening landscapes and potentially lower water bills with little upfront expense.

Existing sprinkler systems may be retrofitted but it’s usually more effective for new installations since some hardware is necessary.

Rainwater Harvesting Makes Plants Happy

Rainwater is simply good for plants, and it’s free. The water is much higher quality because it is devoid of fluoride, chlorine, and other chemical treatments used to produce drinking water. It’s also typically higher in nitrogen than city water, which gives plant life a much needed nutrient.

Also, the water is free of salts and other minerals that harm root growth. As rainwater sinks into the soil, these minerals are forced down and away from roots. The roots grow stronger and become more drought-tolerant.

When it Rains,You Store

Stored rainwater can supplement normal water supplies. In North Texas, rainwater harvesting is a bit of a challenge because we may go an extended period of time with no rain, which prevents recharging the system. But there is a way to deal with that.

A number of factors – including catchment area size, tank volume, irrigation area, collection efficiencies, and annual rainfall – are calculated into determining the right harvesting system for any property. While there is a number of rainwater harvesting supply calculators available on the Internet, a qualified water harvesting specialist can best determine the system design and fit it to irrigation specifications.

But for starters, an analysis of roof slope and style and the catchment area is done to determine how much water per inch of rainfall can be reclaimed and supplied to the irrigation system. Once that’s determined, the size of the catchment tank and screen used to block sediment and debris is established.

A pump inside the tank pushes water into the irrigation system. The system, complete with a backflow, can be plumbed with city water to be used as a backup. A float, like those that adjust water levels in a toilet, will maintain the appropriate amount of water necessary to supply the system at all times.

Rainwater Collection Systems Can be Simple or Elaborate

Collection systems comprised of small containers used to collect runoff – perfect for watering plants around the clubhouse – may be started for a little as a few hundred dollars. More elaborate systems tied into a property’s irrigation cost much more but are nominal when considering the overall cost of installing a new irrigation system.

Some properties in North Texas are being as basic at water reclamation as purchasing 10-gallon containers to capture water for hand-watering of potted plants around the pool or clubhouse. The containers are placed on a cart that is pulled by maintenance staff, instead of a water hose, to the desired areas.

Other systems may include a 10,000-gallon above-ground storage tank. Some properties are even getting creative with the tanks; one is using grain silos that are cut to size. Such creative uses of existing storage devices is not only eye-catching but can be used to educate others on the importance of rainwater harvesting and water conservation and it speaks well of the apartment property’s commitment to sustainability.

Rainwater is the Gift from the Skies that Keeps on Giving

Not all rainwater can be harvested. Certainly some rain goes into the storm drain and goes back into the creeks and rivers, down to the reservoirs and gets re-used, and the vast majority of it gets lost in the leaching process, treatment process. But what rainwater is captured is less expensive and better quality of water for plant material.

The bigger benefit is not the return on investment on the water, but it’s just having access to usable water under restrictions, being a good steward of the resources available, and nourishing your plants and grass in the best possible way.

Most of all, it’s a nice gift from the skies that lasts well after the puddles dry.

Rainwater Harvesting Silo image from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension



President, Earthworks

author photo two

Chris Lee is President of Dallas, Texas-based Earthworks, which specializes in multifamily housing landscaping. He is a contributing author to Landscape Management magazine, licensed irrigation specialist and a Toro Intellisense certified technician. Chris studied business at the University of Arkansas from 1990-94 and horticulture and landscape design at Tarrant County College from 1999-01. He has been employed at Earthworks since 1998.

3 responses to “The Sunny Side of Rainwater Harvesting for Property Managers”

  1. GMAN says:

    Great concept that’s been around for ages. One thing that the article does not mention is to check your local laws surrounding water reclamation. In Colorado water reclamation is highly restricted to the point of not being allowed, depending on your situation, permitting, etc.

    Just check your local laws pertaining to this matter before making investments in catchments systems.

    • Michael Cunningham says:

      Good tip, GMAN. Thank you for sharing. Why is water reclamation so highly restricted in Colorado?

  2. Anne Mallin says:

    I think it’s because water can flood people’s neighbors land and wreak havoc.
    Virginia in 1999 instituted a code, which you could also ask your county to allow.
    It has to be contained well , it’s really heavy and causes damage if a cistern breaks or tips over.
    The code of Virginia along with the Dept. of Environmental Quality, not using toilet water, but gray and rain water:
    Code 32.1 – 248.2

    I wonder how many people know about that code? Maybe other people can ask to have this created.
    Saline invasion in the coastal regions is a bigger problem as our planet dries out. I think it’s more appropriate and important now than ever.

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