While it will always have a place in rural and drought stricken areas in South Africa, the widespread adoption of rainwater harvesting in urban areas will ultimately have the most positive impact on our environment. Modern systems are cost effective, reliable and produce better water quality than traditional systems. They provide a sustainable alternative source of water, and at the same time reduce urban runoff which in turn keeps our waterways clean and reduces the risk of flooding. It is a simple, yet effective way to help ensure that our entire population will always have access to reliable drinking water.
In order to achieve the widespread adoption of rain harvesting systems, there needs to be an incentive for homeowners and commercial property managers to participate. The progressive water tariffs which penalize high consumption of water have been implemented in part as a disincentive to help manage demand. These will become more effective as the cost of water rises and the upper tariffs receive a disproportionately large percentage of the increase. Water restrictions are the ultimate disincentive, but rely largely on the ability to police individual consumption. While these initiatives certainly have some effect, there may be a case for providing positive incentives to reduce water demand, much like the current incentives for the adoption of low energy electrical appliances, such as solar geysers.
Rainwater harvesting not only provides a practical alternative source of water, but it has been shown to reduce water consumption purely by raising the awareness levels of users that install systems. People who have rainwater harvesting systems tend to alter their water usage habits and reduce their overall water consumption, without having to significantly alter their lifestyles. It is a simple way to reduce water consumption with a real cost benefit in reduced water bills.
Perhaps the time for once again embracing the age old tradition of harvesting rain water is now upon us. With the looming water crisis on the horizon, this is a case where every drop definitely does count.