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Voice of the Southern Gulf Islands

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Rainwater Harvesting Tour set for Oct. 14

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By SHANNON COWAN

SSIWPA Coordinator

The Salt Spring Island Watershed Protection Authority and Salt Spring Island Water Preservation Society are sponsoring and co-organizing the third annual Every Drop Counts Rainwater Harvesting Tour on Saturday, Oct. 14 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The self-guided tour map is accessible here.

Rainwater harvesting systems, as you might expect, harvest or capture rainwater that falls freely from the sky. Because it is not the only way to obtain water on Salt Spring Island, many have been known to exclaim, “Too expensive!” “Too high tech!” or “Too time-consuming!” in this temperate rainforest biogeoclimatic zone.

Here in the Gulf Islands of B.C., rain falls and either seeps into underground pockets and spaces, gets used up by vegetation and evaporation, or runs off the land either into a lake basin or directly to the ocean. With a changing climate, typical rainfall intensity has increased, and we are getting more rain in a shorter period of time, which equals higher velocity runoff and less available for ground storage and vegetation.

When it comes to water, we truly are an island: there is no pipeline from some distant mountain snow pack; hydrogeological and human water behaviours and needs can be unpredictable. Rainwater harvesting offers some straightforward successful means for capture and use when seasonal drought hits.

Kathryn and Shaun Luttin installed rainwater harvesting at their Maliview home and garden three years ago in response to both regular summer droughts and the limited St. Mary Lake water resource.

“We started small with 55-gallon barrels and a pump for $60. That is part of the fun: start small, refine and optimize over time, and keep the costs low,” explains Kathryn.

They managed to graduate to an additional 1100-gallon tank this year, but then the challenge to success was optimizing delivery systems to each plant type and addition of some thirsty new trees. Kathryn expects that the current volume of storage is the right amount, and commented, “It was really easy to overwater using lake water from the hose. Now I’m really careful and working towards being self-sustaining.”

The Luttins are likely representative of most people who want to dive into the world of gardening with the rain and reducing their reliance on other ecologically expensive water systems. While do-it-yourselfer Kathryn stated that “all domestic, potable and outdoor uses” was a pie-in-the-sky idea for the distant future, their three-year low-budget rain harvesting success story is an achievable Salt Spring example. They started with the desire to respond to the climate and limits of the lake system, a willingness to learn and then moved through newbie frustration to keep optimizing with physical tweaks and adjustments.

“Be patient,” suggests Kathryn to those who are looking for role models in the world of catching rain. “Every little bit counts in the big picture.”

This year’s third annual Rainwater Harvesting Tour on Saturday, Oct. 14 offers inspiration and hands-on learning across a range of system types.

Self-guided tour participants may visit up to 10 sites. Systems featured include a range of domestic and irrigation-only purposes; with both container- and land-based (pond, swale) components; gravity-fed and pumped systems; and a system designed exclusively for drinking purposes only. Participants will learn about regular cleaning and maintenance, such as purging first flush, maintaining tanks and filtration/treatment practices and costs. Only tour participants may enter to win a draw for a free rain harvesting inspection by water consultant Sandra Ungerson.

Imagine the rain-savvy future for Salt Spring: for every roofline and driveway, a spongy rain garden, pond or series of tanks would retrieve millions of gallons of precious liquid sunshine, saving it from promiscuous evaporation and recycling it through plants, animals and soils right here close to home.

Salt Spring Island Watershed Protection Authority is a coalition of elected representatives from the local, regional and provincial government bodies that have water management and legislative authority for freshwater resources, including watersheds and groundwater.

For more information, email

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