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Rainwater Capture

Rainwater capture includes the use of rain barrels, cisterns, and other methods of on-site storage that hold rainwater for reuse or slow release into the stormwater system.

The Challenge

The Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation, located in Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park in North Central Alberta, is a unique research and education facility that strives to nurture stewards of the boreal forest. When it came time to build a new facility to house the Centre, developers were tasked with designing and constructing a beautiful natural building that fit in with its surroundings while also minimizing the impact on the environment.

The Project

Today, the Centre is located in a LEED-certified green building which had water conservation, energy conservation, and other environmentally-friendly applications incorporated into its design and construction. The Centre’s new building, which opened in 2006, features a state-of-the-art rainwater collection system, composting toilets, geothermal heating and cooling, and a passive solar design.

Prior to construction of the new building, potable water was hauled 18 kilometers to the Centre. To reduce the financial and environmental costs of hauling water, a rainwater collection and water treatment system were incorporated into the project design.

The Centre was constructed with an inverted roof on two wings of the building. This inverted roof design required specially engineered trusses to handle the extra stresses and heavy load from snow accumulation and ice build-up. Storm water and snow melt is directed to a centrally located roof drain and collected in a 28 cubic meter concrete cistern in the basement of the building. A grit interceptor captures sediment and vegetation debris that might otherwise wash into the system.

The total surface area of the roof is 570 square meters. Approximately five centimeters of rain is needed to fill the rainwater cistern. Initial design estimates indicated that this system could provide approximately 75% of the annual water needs for the Centre from rainwater and snowmelt. A second, smaller cistern holds transported potable water for use during low rainwater periods.

The water collection tube is strategically located near the information desk and has a clear plastic section so that visitors can watch the rainwater collection system in action during a rain event.

When fully operational, collected rainwater will be filtered and treated to potable water standards by a treatment system located in the basement of the centre. Treated water will be stored in a potable water cistern in the basement and used to meet water needs within the building.

Additional water conservation measures i.e. composting toilets, waterless urinals, dual flush toilets, and low-flow metering faucets were incorporated into the building design to make the Centre a very low water-use building and to increase the effectiveness of the rainwater collection system.

Overcoming Barriers

A major barrier for this project has been the implementation of the water treatment component of this system. In spring 2009, license approval had still not been obtained for the water treatment system.

Another issue has been the cost effectiveness of operating this small stand alone system. Since the building was originally designed, monitoring procedures and training certification requirements have changed and it is no longer feasible for Alberta Parks maintenance staff to operate this water treatment system. Alberta Parks has actively pursued a partnership with another local organization with the goal of having the partner’s certified water treatment operators oversee the operations and monitoring of the Centre’s water treatment system.

Successes and Outcomes

When the public visits the building they are fascinated and impressed by the water conservation measures incorporated into the design of the Centre. It has been a great educational tool promoting water conservation techniques in construction. The clear rainwater collector tube and the composting toilets are excellent examples of stewardship and conservation in action.

In the long term, a water line is proposed for this area which will mean that the Centre will be able to access the municipal water system. The Centre’s water treatment process will no longer be a critical component of the rainwater collection system. At that point in time, the collected rainwater will be used as a non-potable water supply to reduce our overall consumption of treated water.

The Economics

Developing the basic rainwater collection system was not a major cost for this project. The expensive part of the system has been getting the water treatment plant operational and able to meet Alberta Environment’s monitoring standards. At this point, this has limited the Centre’s ability to utilize the rainwater that is being collected as was envisioned in the original design.

For more information about the Centre visit www.borealbirdcentre.ca.

For more unique and interesting examples of stewardship in action in your community, request a copy of the Green Communities Guide today.

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Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation.

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