written by:
May 23, 2015
Originally published in Bring the Outside In
as
Ed Beaulieu
Field researcher and water-harvesting expert Ed Beaulieu analyzes our conservation options for the future.
RainXchange water filtering system

RainXchange helps manage storm-water runoff and has provided safe drinking water for many communities around the world. Beneath a scenic, seemingly passive water feature is a revolutionary hidden system that stores and filters rainwater for reuse while providing a habitat for wildlife.

A     Non-Potable Water

B     Pump to Graywater Basin

C     Rainwater Downspout Filter

D     Drain Pipe

E     Pump Vault

F     High-Flow Pump

G     AquaBox Reservoir

H     Gravel Bed

I     Liner

J     Geotextile

K    Small Pond Open to Air; Flows into Reservoir

Courtesy of 
Maggie Li
1 / 2
Ed Beaulieu portrait

Ed Beaulieu is the chief sustainability officer at Aquascape, based in St. Charles, Illinois. He developed RainXchange, a rainwater harvesting system. 

2 / 2
RainXchange water filtering system

RainXchange helps manage storm-water runoff and has provided safe drinking water for many communities around the world. Beneath a scenic, seemingly passive water feature is a revolutionary hidden system that stores and filters rainwater for reuse while providing a habitat for wildlife.

A     Non-Potable Water

B     Pump to Graywater Basin

C     Rainwater Downspout Filter

D     Drain Pipe

E     Pump Vault

F     High-Flow Pump

G     AquaBox Reservoir

H     Gravel Bed

I     Liner

J     Geotextile

K    Small Pond Open to Air; Flows into Reservoir

Known as “the Scientist” at the design-build firm Aquascape, in St. Charles, Illinois, Ed Beaulieu has dedicated his practice to implementing and restoring freshwater ecosystems. Beaulieu, a member of the Nat Geo Wild channel’s Pond Stars team, makes rainwater harvesting more efficient through innovations such as his RainXchange filtration and collection system, versions of which he has implemented in Ghana, Uganda, and Colombia. Beaulieu shares his expertise to highlight new conservation initiatives and meaningful changes we can all make.

We’ve had record snowfall in the Northeast and a historic drought in the West. How can we be smarter about water?

Too much water and not enough are both serious problems. Rainwater capture isn’t just about finding an alternate water source, it’s slowing storm-water runoff. The entire water system of Toledo, Ohio, got shut down last summer because of cyanobacteria in Lake Erie. The red tides of Florida and California are directly related to runoff. 

At the same time, we treat this resource that’s falling on our properties as a waste product. The average roof in the United States generates about 1,800 gallons of water in a one-inch rain. That’s a heck of a lot. Even if you have a bad precipitation year in California or Arizona, you still might have 10 to 12 inches of rain. That’s 18,000 gallons or more.

How can we harvest that?

I’ve created everything from small backyard rainwater-capture systems to 100,000-gallon reservoirs under parking lots. We can put together a plan to capture enough water to irrigate landscape beds and for outdoor water usage.

Roof water is about as clean a source as you’re going to find, but the minimum I’ll do is aerate it to keep it in good condition. For water that hits the ground, we have to manage things like pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides by filtering it in different ways: a mechanical filter to remove big sediments; a biological filter, which has bacteria and enzymes to break down and biologically consume a lot of those large compounds; and phytoremediation, which uses plants to treat pollutants.

I have a simple philosophy that I call H2O, or Homes 2 Oceans. It’s the idea of creating a connection between humans and the environment through the use of aquatic ecosystems. A backyard water feature is not only good for local wildlife while protecting aquatic resources, it creates a greater awareness of our environment, which in the face of rapid expansion and growth is critical for the health of the oceans and the entire planet. Even though we may not see it or understand it, everything in our world is interconnected, so small changes at our homes, even in the Midwest, will impact the oceans.

Any urban water-management initiatives that we should know about?

Philadelphia has been designating funds for every new project that goes in the ground. A portion of that will go toward green infrastructure: installing permeable pavement, rain gardens, and rainwater-catchment systems. Chicago has a Green Alley program to create an underground storage system and put the water back into the aquifers. And Santa Fe, New Mexico, is mandating rainwater-catchment systems for new developments. The biggest challenge is that the technology is so new. But progressively minded communities are saying, “Let’s see how these philosophies work in a real-world situation.”

What can the average person do?

If everyone were to dedicate half of their property to native plantings, rainwater capture, and sustainable water features, we’d create the largest national park in the world. I’m talking about the simple stuff: the birds, the bees, the butterflies, the things that make our world tick. We take it for granted that honeybees and other insects will pollinate our crops, but they’ve taken a big hit because their habitat has changed. These backyard oases are important habitats, with food, water and shelter. It’s a management philosophy in practice: Let the water go back into the ground, try to keep it out of the storm drains—capture it first, slow it down. Start somewhere. Just do something.

What’s the most basic rainwater harvesting system out there, and how much does a typical system cost? 

The most basic rainwater-capture system is as simple as placing an empty bucket under your downspout to capture a few gallons of rainwater. If you have an old bucket, there’s no cost other than taking the time to do it. Use the water on indoor or outdoor plants, and your plants will love you! Rainwater is a great source of water that’s free of chlorine and other compounds that actually inhibit plant growth.

Can people create their own systems, or do they need help from a professional? 

You can definitely create your own system to intercept water from a downspout and reroute it into a watertight container so it can be reused or rerouted into an appropriate location on the property to allow the excess water to percolate back into the soil and replenish the groundwater. 

Involving a local professional is a safe way to ensure that the system will function properly. Water can be a challenge, and most communities have a well-designed storm-water conveyance system for a reason. Flooding and excess water can create serious problems to property and homes, so any modifications should be well thought out. The most important part of a rainwater-capture system is to intercept a certain percentage of the rainwater and then allow the rest of it to continue on its original path into the existing storm-water system. 

How important is aerating the water stored in rain barrels? 

An aeration system is beneficial if the captured water is going to sit for extended periods of time without being used. The stored water will become anaerobic quickly, which can foul the water. Rainwater that’s stored for more than a few weeks should be aerated to increase the water quality. 

Adding an aeration system is very simple. A small pond bubbler or an aerator for a large aquarium will work effectively. Pond supply stores, garden centers, and aquarium shops all carry a variety of bubblers and aerators. Installation is very simple: You place the aeration diffuser on the bottom of the container and connect the diffuser to the compressor using the tubing supplied with the unit, plug the compressor into a ground-fault circuit interrupter outlet, and your rainwater will last for months.

How can homeowners learn more about available options for capturing rainwater? 

There are experts and educated professionals in every community. Once you make contact, you’ll find an entire sub-community of people and information on the subject. There are water-conservation specialists and rain-barrel and rain-garden programs. Local connections are the best source of information, because they can provide insight into the local environmental and water issues facing the community. 

Is there a certification program for professionals who specialize in rainwater reclamation and capture? 

There are certifications available to professionals. Magazines like Land and Water and Stormwater are great resources for professionals, as is your local soil and water conservation district.

How can we learn more about which plantings are native to our particular environment? 

You can do your own research online, but there’s a lot of information to sort through. A local nursery or garden center will know what grows best in your specific region. Local botanical gardens, environmental centers, and nature preserves are great resources as well. They have staff familiar with native vegetation and conservation initiatives like water management.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016