If it rains and you hold out your hand and catch a few drops, are they yours?
In the Western states it used to be until quite recently that they were not. Under a legal doctrine called ‘prior appropriation’, which originated in the days of the Gold Rush, surface water belonged to whoever claimed it first, usually upriver farmers or mining corporations. Catching water in your hand would divert it from their supply and, therefore, actually constitute theft. Nobody has ever been penalized for catching rain in his hand, of course, but it was a different story for collecting rain from your roof. Most Western States have repeals the ‘prior appropriation’ laws by now. Arizona did so in 2001. But in Colorado, rainwater harvesting is still illegal under the doctrine, although the Colorado House of Representatives has passed a bill allowing household rainwater collection of up to 110 gallons in March of this year. That is about what an average household uses per day. The bill still has to pass the Colorado Senate, however.
In Arizona, there is no limit on how much you can collect. Installation of rainwater harvesting systems is even encouraged by subsidies of up to $1000.
The drought in the Western States is pretty bad, but not as bad by far as the one that parched Australia for thirteen years. When it ended, in 2009, Melbourne, a city of more than 4 million people had cut total water consumption by half. Necessity is the mother of invention.
A group of researchers from the University of California, Irvine, investigated how they did that, and whether California and other drought-stricken regions might learn a lesson from that.
They found that conservation and recycling were the key. The government provided financial assistance for the construction of home water tanks to capture run-off from roofs to flush toilets and water plants.
It also subsidized water-efficient shower heads, toilets and washing machines. It also built a $6 billion dollar desalinization plant, by the way which to this day has not produced a drop of water, showing that when it comes to water, lo-tech outperforms hi-tech by many a gallon.
Little things mean a lot when it comes to household waste as well, as appears from an experimental waste reduction project in The Netherlands conducted by a commercial waste collection company in collaboration with the universities of Groningen and Utrecht. The project started in January and involved 100 households. Half a year later, their waste output has been reduced by an amazing 90%! The reduction was achieved in part by changing lots of little things, such as using a wash cloth to remove make-up instead of cotton balls. Another factor was separating ‘dry’ trash, such as cans and bottles, from ‘wet’ trash. Most of the reduction, however, came from paying attention to packaging. The participating households bought goods in recyclable or reusable packaging as much as possible, or brought their own for bulk items like candy and nuts.
Sources: Washington Post, Netherlands Broadcasting Foundation (NOS), CNN