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Rain water harvesting for whole house use  RSS feed

 
Posts: 715
Location: PA-Zone 6
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Id like to get a discussion going with folks who have successfully harvested rain water and use it in their entire house for drinking etc. to get off grid at least partially. Id like to do this but need some direction based on experience. Anyone want to have a go at it?
 
                              
Posts: 24
Location: Central Florida
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I would like to know too. It would seem here in the south that rain is either feast or famine. When my rain barrel for gardening is full to over flowing I don't need it for anything. I have some design Ideas in my head for when I can 1. either win the lotto or 2. save enough money to start off the grid practices. So If you do have a whole system for your house how much do you think it cost? And what square footage are you covering for rain collection.
 
Posts: 149
Location: sw pa zone 5
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I live in SW Pa and have known of a number of homes that could not get well water for one reason or another.  Some of the problems may have been caused by deep coal mines taking the water table.  They used large cisterns fed by their down spouts.  My neighbor across the road lived in a very old 2 story 6 room house,  3 up 3 down and had a cistern fed from a slate roof that they used.  They had a hand pump in the kitchen,  a bath tub in a small room next to the kitchen and an out house.  There were 4 people in the family The cistern never went dry on them.  Several other modern homes I know were built with cisterns.  They normally went with a 2000 gal tank for storage.  If their tank went dry from lack of rain in Aug they would pay a local bulk milk hauler to bring them a truck load of water.  Normally the milk hauler would pump the water from a spring on his property or from a farmer that he hauled milk for so it was cheap.  Years ago $50 could buy a 2000 gal load,  today with gas prices it might be $100.  That is still pretty cheap for a years water bill,  and if you are lucky,  or if you watch your use,  you may have a 0 water bill alot of years.  Many of these familys did not drink the cistern water,  they would haul drinking water from a near by spring,  or buy bottled water for drinking. Large storage tanks would seem to be a key to me.  You never know when there might be a drought Hope that is a help.
 
Rob Sigg
Posts: 715
Location: PA-Zone 6
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Well my thought is to collect the rain externally into a buffer container initially that would have a large particulate screen and a small screen to keep out mosquitos/bugs etc, but since this isn't really standing water(except for the foul flush) it shouldn't be an issue. After the initial collection and filtration it would go inside through maybe a 20 micron and then 5 micron filter, again for particulates. Then it would go to a holding tank with a foul flush capability as well. From there I think there a few systems that could purify the water, that area im not clear on. But if you don't drink the water then its no big deal, but with kids thats bound to happen. A berkey would work on the other end for drinking but wouldnt address brushing the teeth, rinsing things off and bathwater. Thats where Im at currently.
 
Mike Dayton
Posts: 149
Location: sw pa zone 5
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It sounds like you have put alot of thought and effort into your design already.  That is great.  A good design will help eliminate problems befor they happen.  Rain water does not carry alot of bacteria as far as I know.  Rincing things off,  bathing,  washing dishes etc should not be a problem .  If you are worried about bacteria you can always get an ulta violet light water system that will kill any bacteria that could make you sick.  Those systems do use electric to operate the light,  I do not know how much current they pull.  With solar panels you could still be off grid and run a system like that.  If you are going that far you need some one with more info than I have.  Good luck with your quest to be off grid.
 
pollinator
Posts: 10119
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Rain tank water doesn't need a whole lot of purification because it doesn't go stagnant if sunlight is excluded.  We have about 11,000 gallons of rain tanks.  Last winter when the house plumbing froze we used tank water for all purposes for about a week.  Because we didn't at the time have filters for potable water we boiled water for drinking.  The water was perfectly fresh from the tanks, and will remain fresh for years (or indefinitely).  Some kind of filtration or treatment (boiling or whatever)  to kill pathogens such as cryptosporidium, Giardia, etc is necessary to avoid illness.  These little critters come mainly from bird poo.
 
Rob Sigg
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Location: PA-Zone 6
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Yeah that is my main concern. As adults we know better than to get questionable water in our mouth and swollow it, but a young child doesn't always know better. I think the UV system is a good option and one that Ive seen, I still think the berkey system is the best overall from what Ive read and heard from others. Unfortunately, based on what I calculated I would need to spend upwards of $50/month on new filters if we ran full capacity from rainwater and still used the same amount of water we use now.

Does anyone know of any other systems besides UV that will kill all the pathogens/bacteria etc? Where is Emerson when I need a chime in on germ warfare!?
 
Posts: 308
Location: long island, ny Z-7a
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i just found this group yesterday,
you may find answers here
posts go back as far as 2003 so i cannot imagine this question isnt fielded in there somewhere! 


http://groups.yahoo.com/group/rainwaterharvesting/
 
Rob Sigg
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Location: PA-Zone 6
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Cheers! I see some good info.
 
                            
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Also a great tool here:  http://www.save-the-rain.com

This tool will let you draw a box over your roof and figure out how much rain you could save based on mean annual precipitation.  Very surprising outputs.
 
Posts: 25
Location: Portland OR
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Wen i was living at my dads place i always wanted to set up something to collect rain water for the garden. Turns out i had a good idea even if my dad blocked me on it. The roof of his double wide mobile home would have collected 159,500 liters a year, according to that tool Mapper99 posted.

My plan was to replace the down spouts with 3" PVC and run that to a home made above ground storage tank behind the house. Made from lumber plywood and a pond liner. In hind sight however a proper water tank would have cost about the same and be more durable. The system never did get built but i did have detailed plans and it would have been good practice at keeping a water cistern.

At least my dad didn't mind the side yard being turned into a garden.
 
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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The classic  book "Five Acres and Independence" by M.G. Kains has a lot of old info on building cisterns and filtration.  Old copies can be found on eBay, and elsewhere, but Norton Creek Press has rereleased a printing (that will often be cheaper than used originals).

http://www.nortoncreekpress.com/

Most of his books can also be found @ Amazon, and other discounters.  His collection of reprints of old classics is certainly worth investigating, and his own "Success With Baby Chicks" is probably the best guide available anywhere.

While much of the information in some of the older books is dated, much remains relative to modern times (especially if you consider WTSHTF, and TEOTWAWKI scenarios).  I believe any homesteader would greatly benefit from Five Acres and Independence.
 
                                            
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Thank You Mapper99. That is interesting.
My Results:
I could grow...
242kg=corn 74kg=beans 91kg=rice 194kg=wheat

My area of your roof is:
128.7 m²
The amount of rain this area receives in a year is:
1100mm
I could harvest:
141570 liters! Or 37398.84 US gallons!
That's enough water to flush an average toilet:
23595 times!
 
                
Posts: 44
Location: West Coast of Canada
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pa_friendly_guy wrote:
If you are worried about bacteria you can always get an ulta violet light water system that will kill any bacteria that could make you sick.  Those systems do use electric to operate the light,  I do not know how much current they pull.


I investigated UV sterilization at one point.  The light has to be on at all times.  To prevent burn-outs, the bulb must be changed every year.  Because bacteria can hide behind small solid particles, the water must be filtered before passing through the UV unit.

Once I learned that, since I'd have to filter anyway, I went with a plain mechanical two-stage filter.  The first stage is fiber and charcoal, and removes macroscopic particles and chemicals.  The second stage is ceramic, and removes bacteria and microscopic particles.  Because viruses typically hitchhike on solid particles, it is fairly effective against viruses, too.  The first stage filter has to be replaced every 4 months or so.  The ceramic filter needs cleaning on about the same frequency, and will last years before it needs to be replaced.

I just couldn't justify the 24/7 use of electricity and the finicky-ness of the UV system.
 
Rob Sigg
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Location: PA-Zone 6
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I thought the Berkey system would be perfect for something like this cause you could install like 6 filters on the bottom of a 55 gal drum, its slower filtering but darn near perfect purification and filtration. The problem is that for every day use that would be very expensive. I think we use 10,000 gallons a month, so with a 6 filter system that means that if each filter is good for 3,000 gallons, I would have to replace the filters every 2 months=BIG BUCKS!!

Even if I reduced my water bill by half its not going to pay for those filters. Though this system would be great as a backup in the event of no electricity for days.

 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Save the Berkey for drinking water only.  The filters are cleanable.
 
Rob Sigg
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yeah thats great for once and a while especially in an emergency, but for daily usage it would not be good because I have a 9 mo old son, who puts everything into his mouth, including bath water. Its too much of a risk to me at this point considering the info that I have on rainwater coming from roofs.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1468
Location: Vancouver Island
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Rob S. aka Blitz wrote:
10,000 gallons a month, so with a 6 filter system that means that if each filter is good for 3,000 gallons, I would have to replace the filters every 2 months=BIG BUCKS!!

Even if I reduced my water bill by half its not going to pay for those filters. Though this system would be great as a backup in the event of no electricity for days.



Um, has the thought of using less water surfaced? 1 Gallon/day/person is about minimum (by most yachters) 10000gal/month seems like a lot! Start with a (or some) sawdust toilet(s) as that is 40% of a lot of house holds water use and pretty much the whole need to treat black water. Use unfiltered water for cooking and showering... wash little ones in the kitchen sink or a small tub... they don't need a 5 foot tub. If such a large tub is needed, wash more than one child at a time (or wash them while washing an adult). Maybe place a large object in one end of the tub to decrease the tub size... (could be safer for the child if they can't lay down... so long as the object is heavy enough they can't get under it either)

This is much like installing a PV power system... first thing is to cut usage down to doable.

hot water (if there is a hot water tank) will be clean without filtering (if it is set at 140F) so run water straight to that.

Above all remember... the human body is designed to work in a fungal soup. Many DRs recommend that we "let our children play in the dirt", have pets, etc.... our bodies have many more times the bacteria than we have actual human cells... in fact our gut alone has about the same number of bacteria/fungus (assuming we are healthy) as we have human cells. Most problems come from and unbalanced biology not coming in contact with a little bacteria. There is such a thing as being too clean...
 
Rob Sigg
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Location: PA-Zone 6
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Yeah, I may have overstated the gallons, but I dont think I did. Ill have to double check. We already have him shower with us and give him a bath in his little tub, so I dont consider us wasteful compared to most people, but there is always room for improvement.
 
Rob Sigg
Posts: 715
Location: PA-Zone 6
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LOL that should be 10,000 in 3 months, so about 3,000 in 1 month. ITs gone up a bit since baby boy arrived since we are doing washable diapers. Like I said, not perfect but we are always trying to improve.

One issue I found is that plumbers dont want to help me, I even have a good friend that said hes not familiar with these types of systems and wouldnt feel right installing something that wasn't code or could potentially cause harm. That was before I informed him about the rest of the world. Someday he might come around.
 
Rob Sigg
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Does anyone know how this type of system works in the winter? Since its being collected from roofs the collection point would be freezing since its outside.
 
                              
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Check out http://greywateraction.org/greywater-recycling for some good info.  They also have info on rain water harvesting.

 
                        
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Years ago some people had a system where water from the roof would initally go into one barrel and when that was almost full, it would switch  flow into the "real" cistern. This would mean that pretty much anything on the roof - leaves, bird turds,  loose material from the shingles etc. would get flushed  into the first barrel and only the  cleaner water was saved for household use. Sometimes that was sent through layered sand and charcoal filters as well.The water in the first barrel could be used for the garden in readiness for the next rain...people used to have big gardens that could use it all.

No idea how often they changed the filter material  but no matter how big a job that was, it had to be easier than trying to clean out the cistern!

From dugouts (lots of people here still use them for household water supply) the gov't suggestion is a slow sand and charcoal filter and then UV or some such when it is actually coming into the house. Dugout water is pretty ferocious compared to roof water though, esp if the initial roof water has been diverted. I've seen people use water from dugouts heavilly used by ducks and other farmyard creatures, pretty scary stuff.  Tend not to stay for tea in such places, I don't care if the water IS boiled
 
                                                                    
Posts: 114
Location: Nashville, Tennessee, USA
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All of the houses in Nisyros Greece have been harvesting rainwater for centuries and still do.

It works very well.
The water goes down a pipe to a masonry cistern under the kitchen.

Photos:
Notice the flat roofs:
http://nisyros.net/

It is nothing abnormal to them.  I renovated two houses on the Island and am quite versed in the design if you have questions.
 
Rob Sigg
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Nice! I spent time in Athens and of course went to many islands. I only briefly stopped at Nisryros. Do they drink the water from the roofs and how do they treat it? Thanks for your help.
 
                                                                    
Posts: 114
Location: Nashville, Tennessee, USA
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They use to drink it until recently.
Now they all drink bottled water!
Those bottles are literally all over the place.
It is a really bad litter issue.

When I go, I boil it and run it through a pitcher filter.
 
Rob Sigg
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So they really dont treat it or filter at all, just goes to a collection point with a pump?
 
                                                                    
Posts: 114
Location: Nashville, Tennessee, USA
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Yes, the pump looks like this:
http://www.harborfreight.com/1-horsepower-shallow-well-pump-with-stainless-steel-housing-68387.html

It is plumbed to a kitchen and a bathroom.

Small hot water tank in bathroom.
 
gardener
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Hi, I am planning on putting in a pair of 22,000 litre (~5000 gallon) tanks to collect the water off my shed roof, which would be about 8000 square feet (yes, it's a big shed).  The primary (initially at least) purpose of this is for watering stock, and also garden use, but in time I would like to investigate using it in the house.  The one hitch is we live in a valley that burns brown coal to generate about 6MW of electricity, so I'm guessing there's a lot of particulate matter on the roof, and probably some other crud (sulphur, etc?) in the water.

I wondered if a solar still could be used to generate clean potable water - I'm guessing you'd only need a few tens of gallons per day for cooking and drinking - and that would avoid the need for filters.  Such a still could be set up on the roof, and a small PV solar pump could lift the water up. Once distilled, it could be stored at height, creating reasonable fall (ten feet or so) for it to get to the kitchen about 40 feet away.

Would love to get a reality check from someone on this!
 
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Campy in Nashville, Tennessee, USA wrote:
All of the houses in Nisyros Greece have been harvesting rainwater for centuries and still do.

It works very well.
The water goes down a pipe to a masonry cistern under the kitchen.

Photos:
Notice the flat roofs:
http://nisyros.net/

It is nothing abnormal to them.  I renovated two houses on the Island and am quite versed in the design if you have questions.

Those roofs are virtually the same thing we have here on Ibiza. Not only are they a great way to catch water but with a high enough parapet wall they also make a great sun terrace or storage area. Many of the old houses have a well or concrete cistern under the house to collect the rainwater from the roofs. Our house was not built with a well or cistern though. Some of the locals still drink this water but the the water from wells here  is known to have a lot of calcium in it and excessive calcium can cause osteoporosis which I have read is a big problem here with a lot of the older indigenous population.
 
Posts: 3
Location: Hyogo, Japan
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I also looked into UV too Rob, but in the end we went for a water treatment product made in Australia and imported a couple of 25L containers from New Zealand (I'm originally from there), easier said than done with Japanese customs and dealing with the Health and Welfare Ministry, but I always love a challenge.

http://www.davey.com.au/ApplicationandProducts/Acquasafe_Rainwater_Purifier.aspx
Not sure if that is readily available in your part of the world.

In the process of setting up water storage for our second home here in western Japan. Don't harvest water from the roof though (yes, a future option if needed), get it from a small mountain stream, or more like a trickle of water unless there is or has been rain recently. It sometimes goes dry, but we do tend to get rain about once a week. Have two x 10,000L polyethylene tanks, one is full of water, connected to a pump and the house. Imported the tanks from New Zealand (in a shipping container) and originally considered selling one but have since decided to keep it and join it up to the other tank. Made another concrete pad for that recently. A work in progress e.g. more piping and also need to make up some seismic restraints too. Enjoying the learning and doing process very much.

Inside the house we only use a simple water filter for the kitchen sink cold water supply. And if we have a group of people staying then we'll often source some filtered water city side for drinks (500 yen for a 4L bottle, with unlimited free refills at the supermarket), where we spend most of the week. So we don't often drink much of the tank water, would do if we stayed there for longer periods.

Not much snow in our area, does sometimes drop below freezing at night during winter. The tanks get quite a lot of sunshine, so even if some snow falls or ice forms it will usually melt in the morning. Having the tanks in a sunny location also helps to reduce the gas water heating bill during summer, I just use the cold water for showers.

Hope that helps. And that your plumber friend comes around, both mind and body, in the future. Also when it rains you will hopefully smile not only for your plants, but your family and wallet 'health' too. 
tanks.jpg
[Thumbnail for tanks.jpg]
 
Rob Sigg
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Awesome Ian! Thanks very much. IM going to look into that system you linked.
 
Rob Sigg
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Does anyone know of a good source for free or discounted 55 gallon or larger food containers for the water storage? There is a coke plant near me, but they exchange their big totest back to the supplier. I don't have a clue who else might be willing to part with them. Thanks!
 
John Polk
steward
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Check your local Craig's List. I often see them listed there. Also, check out any local food processors. Quite often, they get things like vegetable oil in them.
 
Posts: 153
Location: Davie, Fl
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I haven't read through the whole thread, but I remember once hearing Mark Shepard say he collect his roof water and filters it with a reverse osmosis system for drinking. It was mentioned quickly and I believe it was mentioned here: http://groaction.com/discover/2581/mark-shepard-interview-profitable-permaculture/

In hawaii, we built an angled table and used a large glass door window for the top. We used jackfruit latex to glue jalousie window panes as walls so we could funnel the water into a 275 gallon tank that was covered by netting to keep mosquitos out. I often drank from this water and it was some of the freshest tasting water I have ever had. I never got sick, but it was also never tested while I was living there. It would have been good to passively pass it through a series of systems in order to clean it further.
 
Posts: 22
Location: Outside Yuma, Arizona
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Mike Reynolds and his Earthship folks deal with rainwater for household use.
http://www.earthship.com/

His three books have been available online at www.scribd.com

Youtube has several video’s of what appear to be recordings of class sessions he has presented, which include rainwater collection and use.
 
                        
Posts: 122
Location: sub-tropics downunder
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we've used rianwater off and on for 10 years or so now, even when we lived in suburbia.

our opinion everyone should be encouraged to collect rainwater and use it, there are going to be areas where there is too much pollution in the air and on rooves, and also some roof coverings may not be suitable ie.,. tar based tiles maybe? for the main over here we have cement tiles and corrugated or colour bonded metal roofing, they are all fine.

we are now moving back into rural where we will supply our own water, no other available, so the house is set up for that supply, we will ahve 2 X 22.5 kilo/litre tanks that will be fine for a couple like us, if money becomes available later we will buy another tank to then have 3.

we use 4 tap on demand electric pumps they are very reliable.

no filtering is done.

len

http://www.lensgarden.com.au/
 
gardener
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I've just built a water diverter to take the first 30 gallons off of my roof and sequester it in a slowly dripping 55 gallon barrel. After the first 30 gallons all of the water is then "diverted" back to the system. Now, at the end of my system, the next thing I'm going to do is to build a bio sand filter. I'd like to hear what everyone thinks of this.

It builds up a layer of beneficial bacteria that kills off the bad bacteria. This layer is called schmutzdecke. Anyway, it allows you to filter water using materials that are found on your own property without buying replacement filters. You can also create your own carbon filter that improves flavor.

See it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BioSand_Filter

I'm thinking that this would be the best home water treatment plant ever. You might even use a solar still to kill bacteria or a rocket mass heater boiling system. What does everyone think?
 
                        
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Location: sub-tropics downunder
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g'day sunshine,

nice simple looking filter have saved it for any use in the future that may be needed.

we've been drinking tank water for over 10 years lots of people in rural have done at least the same or even decades.

what sort of bacteria are we looking for? and how does it manifest itself in our health?

no better water than rain water it is free and not full of added in chemicals or created from sewerage water.

len
 
Alex Ojeda
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gardenlen gardener wrote:g'day sunshine,

nice simple looking filter have saved it for any use in the future that may be needed.

we've been drinking tank water for over 10 years lots of people in rural have done at least the same or even decades.

what sort of bacteria are we looking for? and how does it manifest itself in our health?

no better water than rain water it is free and not full of added in chemicals or created from sewerage water.

len



I agree completely. Rainwater is soooo much better than city water. I'm still worried about industrial, air-borne pollutants and chem trail particles (who knows what's in that -Aluminum powder from what I've heard), but it's sooo much better than fluoride, chlorine, benzene, radioactive particles from cancer treatments that pass through the municipal water treatment and who knows what else. I'm looking to get this system up to use in an urban setting so that we can have clean water in the city. To me, the filter needs to be able to be reused over and over again without having to go out and buy something.

Now, I'm not sure about the bacteria thing. All I know is that there seems to be an issue with it in other countries where these bio sand filters are used and it's probably because they are pouring water that's mixed with manures or other things from streams and standing water sources. I'm doing it for the rain just to be sure. I also like getting the experience just in case I need to know it for real some day.

So, if it needs to be filtered, I'd like to be filtering it with a renewable resource.
 
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