Examining the Social Acceptability of Cisterns in Rainwater Harvesting for Residenital Use in the Region of Waterloo, Ontario
Fortier, Julia, Maureen
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As water infrastructure in urban Ontario strains to meet the demands of a growing population, alternatives to the conventional water supply approach that complement demand management strategies are important to enable more sustainable water use at the household level. The adoption of rainwater harvesting (RWH), for indoor and outdoor uses by single-family households can reduce a households withdrawals on municipal water by 30% if rainwater is used for toilet flushing, laundry and outdoor uses (Despins 2009). The amount of potable water savings because of RWH is influenced by the rate of adoption and the allowed uses of rainwater at the individual household scale. The adoption of RWH systems would lead to reductions in potable water demand, which, in turn would lead to reduced demands on municipal water sources (e.g., groundwater or surface water), and storm water infrastructure resulting in overall reduced ecosystem stress and increased resiliency for climate change adaptation. Greater onsite storm water retention would mimic natural processes and would help reduce excess overland runoff that can result in water contamination. Presently, RWH systems tend to be more accepted and utilized in rural areas. However, there is a history of cistern use in rural and non-rural Waterloo. This history and capacity seems to be largely forgotten or unknown by urban citizens and local government officials. Century houses’ cisterns are often removed or filled in due to: a perceived lack of need, safety concerns and disrepair because of disuse. The increasing popularity of “green” building features and certifications have added some RWH systems for indoor and outdoor use to the urban environment, however, these remain limited instances. Moving RWH forward requires commitment from the Provincial and municipal government. Municipalities’ actions must support the sustainability objectives often referenced in their legislation and policy. This study establishes the drivers of RWH and examines the barriers to practice in the urban environment by examining existing examples and academic literature RWH systems within Canada and internationally. Results from a survey conducted in the City of Waterloo are used to reflect the systems user’s perspective. Interviews with municipal officials and RWH experts further highlight the drivers and barriers to RWH in urban Ontario. Based on the surveys, participants were generally willing to consider adopting RWH systems and a greater use of rainwater in the house, although a lack of information acts as significant barrier. However, Waterloo municipal officials who participated in the interviews described a much less enthusiastic attitude towards RWH. Although barriers identified in this research, including: legislative barriers, risk tolerance, perceptions of water abundance and economic realities shape the willingness to adopt RWH, this study indicates the barriers are surmountable through education and economic signaling.