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State of Hawaii re-defining policy on rainwater catchment systems

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The capture and use of rainwater catchment makes perfect sense in Hawaii. In places like Puna on the Big Island of Hawaii there aren’t any other options because of the lack of county water infrastructure and inability to drill wells. An estimated 40,000 homes in Hawaii depend on rainwater systems.

Confusion over the safety of this simple technology had led to a political impasse between the State of Hawaii and Veterans Administration over the availability of VA loans for homes dependent on catchment systems. The State Department of Health (DOH) has, for years, posted on their Website: “Water catchment systems are not recognized as potable water…homeowners should not use rainwater catchment water for direct consumption…” This statement was taken as official policy and caused the VA to refuse mortgage loans and refi’s on the basis that these homes did not meet their minimum standards for potable water.

Disgruntled vets, led by Representative Bob McDermott, himself a Gulf War Veteran, went after the State administration on the basis that their inaccurate assessment, and arbitrary policy, was unfairly denying veterans their earned benefits and access to some of Hawaii’s most affordable real estate.

The impasse may be finally giving way to sensible policy changes by the DOH, based on investing in actual facts about rainwater catchment and modern design of systems and their proper maintenance.

The damning wording on the DOH Website has been replaced by statements about how to maintain safe potable water from rainwater catchment systems:

How to make a home rainwater catchment system safe for domestic use

Rainwater catchment systems on individual homes are not regulated by the Department of Health (DOH). Home owners that intend to use rainwater collected off their home’s roof can take action to help make the water safe for domestic use.

To enhance safe water quality and reduce the need for treatment and corrective action, a catchment system should be well designed, regularly maintained, and periodically tested.

The DOH goes on to recommend specific testing criteria and practical design and maintenance suggestions. This change in attitude may be the direct result of several DOH employees, as well as Rep. McDermott’s staffer, attending a recent American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) workshop hosted by The School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) at the University of Hawaii. Based on facts learned at the two-day professional seminar and the growing trend to establish professional design and inspection criteria, the State has come to the realization that properly maintained rainwater systems can work fine for a domestic water supply, and in fact, may provide a more sustainable and self-sufficient alternative for many homeowners.

This is something that the 40,000 homeowners who have been using these systems for the past 30 years knew all along.



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