During summer 2009 a 300 gallon cistern was installed in the courtyard of the Astronomy building next to the garden. The cistern was connected to the existing gutter to “harvest” rainwater from the roof of the building. There was insufficient pressure to push water through the nearly 200 feet of hose to the garden, so volunteers carried water from the cistern to the garden in water cans. While quite a bit of work, we celebrated having a ready supply of water for the garden. Unfortunately, an issue arose when a heavy rain over flowed the cistern and flooded the basement offices in the building.
Students from the organization Engineers Without Borders contacted the garden to offer assistance redesigning the water harvesting system. They connected us with a student team in the Global Sustainability course offered in Fall 2009 who graciously took on our rainwater harvesting system as their class project. The students, Nina and Phillip, researched several overflow systems that would connect the cistern back into the existing stormwater system. They also created a few proposals for solar and hand pumps. Ultimately, we determined the best solution was to move the cistern to the opposite side of the building closer to the garden in a location where the overflow would naturally run away from the building. We also discussed potential for a larger cistern that would collect more stormwater from the building.
After several months of continued research, proposals, and conversations with University administrators we agreed upon a 550 gallon cistern designed for rainwater collection installed on the side of the Astronomy building as the best option. In June 2010 the new cistern was installed by facilities management. We finally have a more steady supply of rainwater! We still need to test the pressure of the tank once it is completely full and determine if an additional pump will be necessary. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy our beautiful new cistern!
Special thanks to Nina and Phillip for their initial research, Chris Kern and facilities management for their continued support and work on the installation, AND Rainwater Management Solutions with an office right here in Charlottesville who helped provide technical support and supplied the new cistern. We greatly appreciate all of your work!