February 9, 2009 / 3:16 PM / 10 years ago

Managing your water can be a bit of a fiddle

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - As water becomes a scarce commodity, some people are doing all they can to conserve — both by reducing consumption and capturing the rain.

In Southern Florida, firefighter and paramedic Rick Sheldon is battling to increase the amount of rainwater he gathers. His biggest gripe is the local luxury golfing community, which uses huge amounts of water just to keep the greens fresh.

A swelling global population, changing diets and mankind’s expanding “water footprint” have led ecologists to forecast “peak ecological water” - the point where, like the concept of “peak oil,” the world has to confront a natural limit on something once considered virtually infinite.

“We are out in the middle of nowhere. My little two acres is one of the few remaining areas round here that’s almost all natural,” Sheldon said.

The 43-year-old rescue worker and his 42-year-old wife Andi live in an 1,800 sq foot (167.2 sq meter) home in St Augustine, Florida the oldest continuously inhabited place in the continental United States.

They have mains power but water is from a well, which is starting to run dry in the summer. So he installed a rainwater gathering system made as far as possible from used parts.

“My tanks are reclaimed - we have a cigar factory just to the north of us - they go through one or two 1200 liter tanks a week for the glue in the cigars.”

Sheldon installed two a year ago. He paid $40 each to have them transported to his home.

“One of them is 75 percent full and the other one is praying for rain,” he said.

A former sergeant in the Army Reserves, Sheldon has the practical skills that many lack, but he still called in a plumber to help him with his system, especially installing the solar hot water which has reduced his energy bill.

That system cost $3200, less $500 from the state and a federal tax credit of $1000, he said.

But that was only part of the whole system that Sheldon needed. He also required a permit to install it, not that the authorities could understand what or how he was doing what he was doing.

“I looked at the guy who came to inspect it and I asked him do you have any clue what you are looking at? He said ‘no’.”

Florida’s heat also means that Sheldon must guard against microbes in the water through careful filtering.

“I have three 55 gallon drums that are hooked up with spigots (taps) and elevated to three of the gutters up on the roof,” he said.

From there Sheldon pumps the water to the bigger tanks via several filters. A $50 filtration system initially eliminates larger items like leaves and pine needles. Then the water passes through another $50 microfilter.

“We use it for everything but for drinking and we have not run out of water this year,” he said. “The pump is small and I got it on sale but it’s enough of an elevation so the pump gives it the extra pressure it needs.”

The 55 gallon drums came free from a hospital in nearby Jacksonville and had contained food grade floor wax.

“So if ingested, no big deal, but I took them over to a buddy with a pressure washer and they came out clean as a whistle,” Sheldon said.

Now he has completed the water system for the house and garden Sheldon’s next goal is to install “composting commodes.”

These toilets cost between $500-$1,000 and require owners to manage their own waste.

“But if they are properly maintained they never smell,” Sheldon said.

“We are almost there...I sure hope so, because my bank account can’t take much more.”

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