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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Home Reservoir

Air Date: Week of

In our occassional series on listener lifestyles, Steve talks with Michael McElveen of Austin, Texas. Dr. McElveen has started a trend in his area of tapping rainwater for all of his household needs.


CURWOOD: This past summer, drought devastated much of the southwestern United States. Hardest hit were farmers and ranchers but other homeowners were forced to cut back as well. Most of them, anyway. My next guest has his own water supply. Michael McElveen is an emergency room physician living near Austin, Texas, who has put together his own backyard reservoir. Dr. McElveen, welcome to Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: Now tell me, where do you get your water from?

MCELVEEN: Where we all get our water: from rain.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Okay. But how do you store it?

MCELVEEN: The process is really quite simple, and the technology is really quite ancient. Basically, it is rain falling on a tin or galvanized roof. That water runs into a gutter. That gutter runs in turn to a downspout and into a sealed fiberglass tank or cistern. It then flows downhill. There is a pump that will pressurize it up to a level of 30 pounds per square inch so that it can run all of our household appliances.

CURWOOD: And so how many gallons do you keep on hand?

MCELVEEN: For our in-house use we have 17,000 gallons, which will last us approximately 10 months of absolutely no rainfall at all.

CURWOOD: And you use it for everything. You drink it, it goes for your showers, it goes in your toilets.

MCELVEEN: It goes for absolutely everything in-house as well as outside, which includes a swimming pool, garden, orchard, water garden, washing cars, bathing dogs.

CURWOOD: Does it taste any better than city water?

MCELVEEN: Oh, we think so. The quality is gold standard.


MCELVEEN: If municipalities had their choice, they would all be on straight rainwater, since it has no hardness and no total dissolve solvents or solids in it. It is the finest water you can have.

CURWOOD: And have you set off a trend in your neighborhood?

MCELVEEN: I think that could be quite readily said. When we first started doing this in 1983, we were the only people we knew around doing it. As of 1996, there are now probably 6 or 7 contractors who make a living putting in these systems. There's architects who specialize in designing them. There's quite an infrastructure of suppliers of tanks and ultraviolet lights and plumbing equipment. And there's probably 300 homes in our area now that are on rainwater.

CURWOOD: How well did you and your other water comrades fare during this most recent drought?

MCELVEEN: What initially made this a popular alternative was at the time of our last drought from 1988 to 1990, there were a number of stories in the media all the time about wells in our area going dry. At that time I had lots of water and I made it known to several of the people whose wells were dry. Subsequent to that, the experience has been extremely positive. We've had many neighbors whose wells again are dry this year, and we still have plenty of water. At no point have we been less than 55% of capacity in spite of it being the driest year in over 40 years here.

CURWOOD: Dr. Michael McElveen, thanks for joining us.

MCELVEEN: It was my pleasure.



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