From: Zeke MacCormack, San Antonio Express-News
Published October 19, 2006 12:00 AM

Rainwater as a Cash Crop

Zeke MacCormack, San Antonio Express-NewsBOERNE, Texas -- Promoting rainwater catchment systems on homes and businesses in Kendall County -- the first major initiative by a new development agency here -- will make more and more economic sense as growth strains area aquifers, officials say.


The Kendall County Economic Development Corp. sees reducing the area's reliance on groundwater as critical to its continued prosperity.


"If we just continue to suck all the water out of the ground, then we can't continue to grow," said Steve Mack, chief executive of Texas Heritage Bank and a member of the development agency board that last week voted to pursue the program.


It was unveiled Tuesday at a community forum on water, a critical subject here as the combination of drought and rapid development this summer left some Trinity Aquifer wells sucking air.


It entails setting up entities to sell systems that capture rain for landscaping or domestic uses, getting banks to offer low interest loans to help property owners who want to install the systems -- and persuading local governments to offer tax incentives if they follow through. More information


Kendall County property owners who install rainwater catchment systems will be able to get low interest loans and breaks on their local taxes if a proposal by a new development agency there comes to pass.


Details on rainwater harvesting at rainwater.org and lcra.org


"We've got a lot of work to do on it," said Dan Rogers, who in June became the first president of the development corporation created last year by the county, city and chambers of commerce in Boerne and Comfort.


The program resembles one created in 2000 in Hays County, where Rogers led the Greater San Marcos Economic Development Council from 2003 to 2005.


That program's coordinator, Brad Bailey, said incentives approved by commissioners there include reduced development fees and allowing the value of rain harvesting equipment to be deducted from property tax appraisals.


Residents also can apply for low-interest loans to install rainwater collection systems under a cooperative program between local banks and Hays County that began this summer, he said.


Boerne and Kendall County officials haven't formally discussed the idea of tax breaks and incentives with Rogers.


But "it's something that we need to look at," Boerne Councilman Dan Heckler said.


It's estimated that hundreds of buildings in Hays County are outfitted with collection systems.


"There's a large movement in this whole Texas Hill Country area (to capture rainwater) in lieu of drilling wells," said Richard Heinichen, owner of Tank Town, a Dripping Springs firm that specializes in the field.


Complete systems for converting rain into drinking water start at about $15,000 there, he said, and there's no sales tax on equipment under a 2001 state law.


Specialized gutters collect and filter the water and direct it to storage tanks that can be installed below or above ground. When needed, it's pumped through two filters, further purified with ultraviolet rays and emerges from faucets free of minerals -- commonly present in well water -- that can clog appliances.


"Rainwater is the gold standard of water," said Heinichen, who also sells bottled "cloud juice" at the business he opened 15 years ago.


He said a rule of thumb on sizing systems calls for budgeting 1,000 square feet of rooftop and 7,500 gallons of consumption per year per person in a household.


Heinichen applauded the initiative in Kendall County, saying: "Competition is healthy and I encourage them to get into it. ... There's no doubt this is a movement that is not going to stop."


The Guadalupe Blanco River Authority plans to assist in the project because "the only other sources of water here are groundwater, surface water and the GBRA pipeline" from Canyon Lake, said Phillip Bell, an EDC board member.


"If we can propagate the rainwater harvesting as an industry, which we intend to do, it will be an alternative source of water," Bell said.


Some aren't waiting on the development agency's plan. Plans for the new Boerne Champion High School, slated to open in 2008, include a system to catch and store up to 300,000 gallons of rainwater for irrigation.


"We'll capture all the rainwater runoff from the site, from the roofs, any impervious cover and air condition system condensation," said Don Tillis, school district facilities director.


Homebuilder John Moon offers rainwater-harvesting systems as an option on his houses, and now plans to open a business specializing in the trade.


"If you wanted to do the full treatment, it's comparable to the price of a well, $15,000 to $20,000," Moon said. "I see more people willing to do systems just for landscaping right now."


A partner in the new firm, Trinity Rainwater Harvesting, is Tommy Mathews, chairman of the Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District board.


"Utilizing rainwater recapturing is going to be one of the keys to sustainable growth in our area," Mathews said. "You've got to offer people an alternative to punching another hole in the ground." zeke@express-news.net


Kendall County property owners who install rainwater catchment systems will be able to get low interest loans and breaks on their local taxes if a proposal by a new development agency there comes to pass.


Details on rainwater harvesting at rainwater.org and lcra.org


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Copyright © 2006, San Antonio Express-News


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