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Rain: Heavens-sent pollution solution?

Kenny Kemp
Nancy Ward and Dina Hornbaker, both of Charleston, look at information about how to harvest rainwater for drinking at a workshop Saturday in South Charleston.
Kenny Kemp About 60 people attended a free rainwater harvesting workshop Saturday at Rock Lake Presbyterian Church. The workshop included a Skype call with an expert in New Mexico projected onto the front wall of the sanctuary.

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sarah Smith hopes to collect enough rainwater to wash her vehicles, do laundry, shower in, fill her aquarium and maybe supply her drinking water one day.

She was one of about 60 people that attended a free rainwater-harvesting workshop Saturday at Rock Lake Presbyterian Church in South Charleston.

"I started thinking about [collecting rainwater], but knew I needed more information," Smith said. "I'm here today to figure out how to do that."

Smith, who lives in South Charleston, had thought about implementing her own rainwater harvesting system even before the Jan. 9 chemical leak into the Elk River that contaminated the region's water supply.

Smith first thought about collecting rainwater herself last summer when she saw decorated rainwater barrels at an arts and crafts festival she attended. From there she started reaching out to people to find out more.

"I can remember I went to Mount Rainier a few years back, and there was some water coming off the mountain in an area I could get to and drink," Smith said. "I kind of think of that a lot. It's the connection and cooperation with nature that's appealing."

Smith said Saturday's workshop helped her get closer to implementing her own system. She's been more motivated to start her rainwater harvesting since the chemical leak.

That's what Crystal Cook, of We Are All Farmers, was hoping for.

Cook lives in North Carolina and has a permaculture farm she operates with her husband. They focus on connecting the people of Appalachia with the land and resources they have.

"A big part of my family lives in those nine counties affected by the water contamination," Cook said. "Access to water is a huge issue."

Cook wondered what she could do to help people find solutions to water issues.

As soon as schedules opened up, she headed to Charleston to hopefully stimulate awareness and cooperation among people affected by the ongoing water crisis, she said.

"It's important for all of us to go back and have those traditional Appalachian resources," Cook said. "It's important to have this knowledge even if you are not using it immediately."

Via Skype, attendees listened to Jeremiah Kidd talk about methods to create active rainwater harvesting systems. Kidd is stationed in Santa Fe, N.M., at San Isidro Permaculture Institute.

Kidd talked about the various filtration systems that could be used to make rainwater safe for drinking. Some use reverse osmosis and cost more than systems that use ceramic and charcoal flirtations.

Janice Walker, of Rain Catchers in Kernersville, N.C., also attended Saturday's workshop. The company offers sustainable rainwater harvesting systems.

Walker's company has been in business for about eight years. Rain Catchers installs systems in sizes ranging from 1,000 gallons to millions of gallons.

Walker said the systems are assembled by hand and are easy to place on a mountainside or hilltop. They've done work throughout the U.S. and are working on projects in Haiti.

"You dig a hole, place a liner and then put your filtration system in and seal it," Walker said. "They can be any configuration with a flexible design."

Depending on the size of the project, the rainwater system may take just a few days or more than a week to install, Walker said.

Rain Catchers installed a system on a farm in Talcott, Summers County.

In Haiti, Rain Catchers installed a 10,000-gallon system in a mountaintop village with 800 children that lacked water.

"Now, they're catching rainwater and have a potable source of water," Walker said. "The biggest challenge is making people aware that this kind of technology is out there."

Walker hopes those attending the workshop leave knowing there are other solutions for drinking water.

"The people here are desperate for change and solutions," Walker said. "I come back and I'm thinking it's not that much different right here in West Virginia with this last chemical spill. I live in North Carolina and there was just this huge coal-ash spill, and my neighbors don't have clean drinking water."

Designing rainwater-catching systems is like using Lego blocks, Walker said. They can be designed based on the person's needs and the amount of rainfall in their area.

Cook hopes people left the workshop with solutions and a willingness to help each other implement what they have learned.

"We think that knowing some techniques really doesn't get you anywhere," Cook said. "If you know techniques but don't have anybody to help you or do it with or share the labor, then your techniques are not going to get you very far."

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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