Why this Central Texas community is so invested in rainwater collection


WIMBERLEY, Texas (KXAN) — Homeowners and businesses in a Hays County community frequently rely on rainwater and condensation harvested from rooftops instead of more traditional water sources.

Wimberley is taking another step toward sustainability as the school district builds its newest elementary school with a system to collect rain and air conditioning condensate to flush toilets, which will then irrigate fields.

But rainwater harvesting systems are nothing new in the town.

“We wanted to reduce our environmental impact in the area,” said Patty Nilsson. “This is such a pristine area, so we really didn’t want to drill” a well.

Nilsson and her husband live high atop a hill near the Blanco River in Wimberley; the couple moved to the house five years ago from Houston, and Nilsson said they’ve never run out of water, even during droughts.

Part of the reason, she said, is their metal roof creates condensation, which can replenish the massive collection tank during dry weather.

“We’ll never run out of water,” she said. “Obviously, when it rains, we have an abundance of water, but we still shower, do dishes, laundry, clean, fill the pool just the same as we did when we were in the big city, it’s just cleaner water.”

The man who installed the Nilssons’ system, James Riley, said rainwater harvesting is still gaining popularity.

“It’s moving into San Antonio, going south,” Riley, owner of Rain Savers, LLC, said. “A lot of people are just now finding out the benefits of the rainwater.”

The Wimberley business owner has been installing systems since the early 2000s and still puts in 10 to 15 a year around Central Texas. In 2005, the Texas Water Development Board found Hays County had the fastest growth in new installations.

Texas regulations incentivize rainwater collections. Counties can cut property taxes for homeowners who install systems, and state law says homeowners’ associations can’t bar people from installing them.

The city of Wimberley also doesn’t require permits for many sizes of rainwater systems, meaning there are few barriers for homeowners looking to supplement their supply.

Riley said the cost of a comprehensive system is comparable or even cheaper than drilling a well, and in cities with municipal water systems they can cut down on utility bills.

Plus, with demands on aquifers around the state intensifying with new development, conservation groups like the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association encourage people to find alternative water sources.

“The groundwater’s going to be hard to come by,” Riley said.

Nilsson appreciates her conservation-minded neighbors. She doesn’t worry about whether she’ll have water in the future, and brags to guests about how clean and fresh the stream is coming out of the tap.

“The only thing I ever tell them is that, when they take a shower, I just say, ‘Hey, guys, I just want to remind you we’re on rainwater collection, so you can’t lollygag in the shower,'” she laughed.

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