Knoxville 865.544.7873 Nashville 615.241.9500


Why choose rainwater harvesting over the municipal water that is available? Is well water a better way to go for self-sustainability? Is rainwater safe for my family? These are just a few of the questions that will be answered in this guide to rainwater harvesting vs municipal and well water.

ATTENTION: This article goes into some complex water quality issues, but I cannot put enough emphasis on how important it is to know these. I encourage you to take some time when reading through this article. If you have any questions along the way, please reach out to me personally at contact@4perfectwater.com, and I will be glad to help.

Let’s “dive” into water.

This guide covers three main points:

  1. The Water Cycle
  2. Groundwater Depletion vs. Municipal, Well Water, and Rainwater Harvesting.
  3. Water Quality vs. Municipal, Well Water, and Rainwater Harvesting.

 

1. Information to Get Started: The Water Cycle – “The Expert in Recycling”

To help understand water sources, I’m going to give a refresher from physical science, the water cycle.

  1. Evaporation: Water is turned from its liquid phase in the ocean, lake, river, or a puddle, to its gaseous phase without reaching boiling point. While the water is being vaporized, another process is happening simultaneously: a purification process known as distillation. This is a purification process that separates the water from contaminants such as bacteria and minerals.
  2. Condensation: When cold air comes in contact with humidity, condensation takes place. The vapor water that was pulled into the sky through evaporation comes together and creates a vapor “cloud”.
  3. Precipitation: This is when the water condensates enough to form raindrops that fall to the ground by the forces of gravity.
  4. Rainwater Runoff: Where does the water go when it falls to the ground? It is absorbed through the ground into underground sources such as aquifers, but also flows into above ground locations such as streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans.
  5. Repeat: The water is evaporated and begins the process all over again.

More detailed outlines of the water cycle are available (Like this article from NASA), but these are the primary steps. Each step is important, and what we cover next explains why.

 

2. The Water Crisis We Have Found Ourselves in: “Out of the Blue”

Have you heard that clean water will become the gold of the 21st century? Not necessarily that water will become an exchange rate, but rather that clean water availability is becoming a concern, even in 1st world countries. Many scientists believe that our freshwater supply is at risk, and while multiple factors can play a part in the issue, we are going to focus on groundwater replenishment.

  1. Increasing Development: Through hundreds of years of building cities and roadways, the U.S. heavily populated metro areas have increased exponentially. These cities thrive and are an incredible boost to our economy.
  2. An Unforeseen Problem: Due to increasing development, infrastructure that sends stormwater into rivers and oceans was put in place to make sure that cities and streets aren’t flooded – this leads to an underlying problem that has begun to emerge.
  3. Water Depletion: Water is being used from the underground water table and rivers continuously, but that water isn’t being replenished the way it used to through natural groundwater recharge. According to the USGS, groundwater depletion in the Chicago metro area has lowered the city’s water level 900 feet.

 

Municipal Water vs. Water Depletion

This is the water source that most Americans use. According to the CDC, roughly 286 million Americans use Municipal water. Provided through district water utilities, water is drawn from a freshwater source, such as well water from the underground water table or from surface sources such as rivers and lakes.

In areas where a well is needed, municipalities use large 12″ well casing to pump massive amounts of water out of the underground aquifers. And in cases where it is being pulled from a lake or river, in reality, it is also pulling from the underground water table because most rivers and lakes are supplied by underground water channels.

 

Well Water vs. Water Depletion

Used often in rural and remote areas, wells consist of a pump that draws water from the water table underground. The plus side is that the amount of water used per home is less than municipal, due to the filtration process of municipal water and the reject water that is accumulated. Well water is still directly depleting water from the water table, so it doesn’t help in groundwater recharge.

 

Rainwater Harvesting vs. Water Depletion

An old idea revolutionized. Rainwater harvesting collects the water between stages 3 and 4 of the water cycle, whereas Municipal and Well water collect water between stages 4 and 5. This gives the ability to catch and store water that would have previously been sent away with stormwater runoff. The water is only being collected from the roof, so naturally occurring, groundwater recharge still takes place. And when the rainwater harvesting storage is full, overflow is sent to groundwater recharge.

 

3. An In-Depth Look at the Water Quality of Municipal Water, Well Water, and Rainwater Harvesting

 

Municipal Water vs. Water Quality – Part 1

Filtration: Municipal water is collected from surface freshwater, such as rivers and lakes, and also groundwater. It then goes to a municipal water treatment plant, where the water goes through filtration processes.

According to the CDC, these are the most common steps:

  • Coagulation and Flocculation: This is a process of injecting positively charged chemicals into the water, which binds particles already in the water with the chemical, creating larger particles, called floc.
  • Sedimentation: The water is then sent to a large tank where the floc settles at the bottom.
  • Filtration: The clear water on the top is then sent through various filters including sand, gravel, and charcoal filters with multiple pore sizes.
  • Disinfection: After filtration, a disinfecting chemical such as chlorine or chloramine is added into the water to kill any remaining bacteria, viruses, or parasites. It also is meant to keep the water protected on its way throughout the municipality plumbing.

Pipes: After these processes are complete, the water is pumped to a storage vessel where it stays until it is pumped into your home through an extensive network of pipes. These pipes are often very old. Many areas are still having water supplied through iron galvanized piping.

Do you remember the situation in Flint, Michigan regarding lead being found in the main water supply? Did you know that it wasn’t that the municipality wasn’t filtering the water enough, but rather that it was the old piping that carried the water to the homes that secreted the lead? Many cities used lead-laced pipes for water and service lines decades ago. According to Next City, there are still lead-laced pipes in the ground throughout the U.S. It is simply too much money to replace this massive infrastructure of underground water piping, and in some cases, cities don’t know where the old piping is that could be lead-laced.

Chlorine: A primary disinfectant used in Municipal water filtration is Chlorine. It can often be smelled and tasted in normal municipal water that enters homes. Perhaps you’re thinking, “I don’t smell or taste it at all!” and many people have adjusted to it over the period of time that they have used municipal water. But, go a month with using chlorine-free water, and you will be amazed by the difference if you try to switch back. Chlorine is actually bad for you, it’s a toxic chemical. It’s not healthy to ingest at any level and can cause your skin to become dry and itchy.

Hardness: I’m not going to give an in-depth look at hard/soft water specifically, but rather some basic information. Most municipalities in the U.S. have hard water, and that is due to calcium and magnesium in the water. It is not a health concern, but it affects plumbing, water-using appliances, water heaters, and it also affects your skin and hair. To learn more about hardness, read this article.

The Good: The reason we have presented all this information is NOT to attack Municipalities. America has the cleanest water in all the world. If Municipalities were to provide water that doesn’t have the risk of these contaminants, it would cost a fortune to maintain, and that would be carried over to the water bill you receive every month.

The only economical and feasible way to have pure water from a Municipality that is safe and healthy is to use point of entry (Whole-house filtration systems) and point of use (Purified drinking water systems) water filtration systems in each home or business.

 

Municipal Water vs. Water Quality – Part 2

Water Quality: In 1974, Congress enacted the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), this is a federal law that ensures the quality of Municipal water. It gives the EPA authority to set standards and regulations for municipalities.

Unfortunately, the Safe Drinking Water Act is quite deceptive in language. Below are three documents straight from the EPA, the ones who set regulations for water quality standards. These clearly state that the water coming from municipalities is not guaranteed to be safe. You’ll read about many contaminants that do not even have regulations because it would be too costly to remove and test for them.

The Safe Drinking Water Act should rather be called, in our opinion, the Useable Water Act.

Have you heard of Total Trihalomethanes (TTHM)? It is a dangerous, cancer-causing contaminant that was found to be in the public water sources at one point. They then discovered that TTHM could be removed by adding ammonia to the water and taking out some of the chlorine, this resulted in a solution known as chloramines. The rubber industry then had to develop a new material because the chloramines started eating away at all the o’rings in homes and other rubber items.

When chlorine is added and comes in contact with organics in the water, disinfection by-products (DBPs) are created. This leads to even more contaminants that we are not aware of in our water. And once more, total trihalomethanes are a DBP.  The EPA states that it doesn’t know what the DBPs are of chloramines.

These are three documents that you need to know about:

1. National Primary Drinking Water Regulation

This is a list of over 80 contaminants that are found in public water, many more than are in this list are found in the water, but these are the regulated contaminants.

A few things to point out about the document: MCLG stands for Max Contaminant Level Goal and MCL stands for Max Contaminant Level. They have certain contaminants that the “goal” is lower than the allowable amount, that’s unsettling.

“TT” stands for treatment technique, and quoting from the document: That means “a required process intended to reduce the level of a contaminant in drinking water.” That means that contaminants such as Viruses, Legionella (a type of pneumonia), Cryptosporidium (bi-product of human and animal fecal waste) need to filter through “A required process intended to reduce the level of a contaminant in drinking water.” while the “Goal” on all three are ZERO. Read the document itself. Everything that has been said in this paragraph is taking directly from the EPA document.

2. Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) Chemicals

“The Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) is a list of contaminants that are currently not subject to any proposed or promulgated national primary drinking water regulations, but are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems” –EPA. Read that sentence again.

This list includes herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, antibiotics, pharmaceuticals, hormones, explosives (no joke, these are pulled directly from the document) As you read these, REMEMBER, this is a list of UNREGULATED contaminants “that are currently not subject to any proposed or promulgated national primary drinking water regulations, but are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems”

3. Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) Microbial

This is part 2 of the CCL, the Microbial section. This is also “a list of contaminants that are currently not subject to any proposed or promulgated national primary drinking water regulations, but are known or anticipated to occur in public”. The list includes Bacteria, Viruses, and Protozoan, directly from the document.

Testing: Municipalities do not test the water with live results, they take samples and test those samples. So that means even with the contaminants that they do test for, the sample they acquired might just happen to be okay, but other contaminated water just went by without them having any way to know, and that water ends up in your home.

We cannot emphasize enough the importance of point of entry and point of use water purification and filtration in every home using municipal water.

 

Well Water vs. Water Quality

Overview: According to the CDC, around 15 million households in the U.S. use well water as their drinking water source. Well water has its benefits, for years it had been the only way to get water in remote areas. It’s free after the initial investment, and it comes with self-reliance, which is very attractive to many people. But, because well water is completely separated from any regulations, water filtration and quality is the well-owners responsibility.

Water Quality: Wells are incredibly diverse. A well only 100 ft from another can have a completely different chemical composition. A list from the CDC shows contaminants and diseases that have been found and can be common in well water:

Including: ArsenicCopperCryptosporidiumCampylobacterE. coliEnterovirusGiardiaHepatitis ALeadNitrateNorovirusRadonRotavirusSalmonellaShigella, and many more.

The most major concern that well water users have is bacteria, which can be solved through the use of an Ultraviolet Light System and other methods. But other contaminants such as Iron and Sulfur can be displeasing. Orange stains and rotten-egg smell are a common occurrence with well water, and even if someone drills a well and these don’t show up at first, there is a chance the well water composition will change. Many other contaminants can find themselves in well water, such as naturally occurring fluoride, methane gas, and more.

Hardness: Water hardness is common in well water. Due to the fact that the water is being pulled directly from the ground, calcium and magnesium deposits can be large. To learn more about hardness, read this article.

The “Problem” of Well Water

The single biggest issue with wells is that they are undependable. Both in water availability and water chemistry. You can have your well tested for bacteria and come back negative, but the next day, have a whole host of bacteria in your well. And I grew up on a well, so I clearly remember the days where our well dried up – not a fun experience when you’re in the shower with soap covering you.

Now, let’s take a look at rainwater.

 

Rainwater Harvesting vs. Water Quality

Remember the water cycle that we went over at the beginning? Let’s take a look at that one more time:

  1. Evaporation: Water is turned from its liquid phase in the ocean, lake, river, or puddle, to its gaseous phase without reaching boiling point. While the water is being vaporized, another process is happening simultaneously: a purification process known as distillation. This is a very effective purification process that separates the water from contaminants such as bacteria and minerals.
  2. Condensation: When cold air comes in contact with humidity, condensation takes place. The vapor water that was pulled into the sky through evaporation comes together and creates a vapor “cloud”.
  3. Precipitation: This is when the water condensates enough to form raindrops that fall to the ground by the forces of gravity.
  4. Rainwater Runoff: Where does the water go when it falls to the ground? It is absorbed through the ground into underground sources such as aquifers, but also flows into above ground streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans.
  5. Repeat: The water is evaporated and begins the process all over again.

 

Like I said earlier, Municipal and Well water is collected from between steps 4 and 5, after falling to ground and either flowing into a river or lake or soaking down into groundwater. The water is pumped back out, filtered, and used. Rainwater Harvesting, on the other hand, takes a different approach.

Rainwater is collected in between steps 3 and 4, before it reaches the ground and becomes filled with contaminants and particles. Now before I go on, yes, rain does pick up particles and contaminants while it’s falling and there are particles and bacteria on the roofs it falls on, but this is apart of the system process, and these are all removed before entering your home.

Remember, all water at some point was rain, rainwater harvesting simply collects that water earlier than municipal and well water sources.

Water Quality: Rainwater is pure in its natural form. Through evaporation, the process of distillation occurs which purifies the water. Collecting the rainwater from a hard surface roof keeps little contamination from taking place. From the roof, it is sent through conveyance to a pre-storage filter where the water is filtered to keep any debris and unwanted waste from entering the water storage.

While the water is stored, it is clear and odorless. The total dissolved solids (TDS) in the water is low, and there are no in-organics in rainwater harvesting. Therefore, when the water is called upon, it goes through a simple filtration process and is pumped to the destination with high pressure and high purity.

Hardness: Rainwater is naturally soft! The only true “saltless softener”.

Chemicals: The rainwater harvesting method requires ZERO chemicals!

Filtration: Rainwater is put through a simple, but highly effective 3-step filtration process. Due to the fact that rainwater is already incredibly clean, it doesn’t take much.

  1. Sediment Filtration: Removes any remaining particles down to 5 microns, much less than any municipality.
  2. Carbon Filtration: Helps with taste and removes other organic contaminants.
  3. Ultra Violet Light Disinfection: Eliminates 100% of bacteria.

After these 3 stages, the rainwater is perfectly safe to use, wash, bathe, cook, and drink, and it tastes great.

 

What Next?

I encourage you to read through this article again. I went fairly deep into the complexities and wouldn’t want you to miss the crucial points covered, especially section #3: water quality. You may benefit by printing this out, highlighting sections, taking notes, and doing some research on your own.

Want to learn even more about rainwater harvesting in Knoxville and Nashville? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Rainwater Harvesting

You can also contact our team.