The Kitchen Sink Faucet

Living On Rain: Water Collection and Conservation

Water collection, conservation, and treatment is a part of daily life at Desert Rain. it plays a profound role at Desert Rain- influencing not only the design of the home, but the site development as well. Tom and Barb have prepared and practiced mindful water usage for some time – even before moving in to Desert Rain. And now they want to share and inspire that same thoughtful conservation.

The Kitchen Sink Faucet

The faucet in the Desert Rain kitchen pours delicious rainwater.

The Living Building Challenge Water Petal

Earning the LBC Water Petal poses a very real challenge for Barb and Tom. It requires that they use only water that has fallen as precipitation on the property, and that the site retain all of the water collected and used. Doing so requires large cisterns and onsite water treatment facilities for gray water and black water. The limited nature of this resource is especially apparent and easily measurable for Tom and Barb. Living on rain means the couple and their guests will have all of their water needs met by the 11.2 inches of precipitation that falls each year in Bend.

A Shared Acumen: Water is a Precious Resource

Desert Rain Bathtub

Taking a bath is a very special treat.

All of the appliances and fixtures at Desert Rain have been selected for their water efficiency, yet the most important component of water conservation is the person with their hand on the tap. From rinsing dishes in the sink and running the tap to get the desired temp, to brushing teeth and taking a shower, each of us is ultimately in control over the water we use.

As welcoming hosts, Barb and Tom want to share their mindfulness about water conservation with their guests. And their guests are very enthusiastic about learning more and doing their part. But how do we waste water and what does personal water conservation truly look like?

How much water does is take for a person to live a healthy and prosperous life? The answers vary widely. The Average American uses 400 gallons of water per day, while the average African uses 5 gallons of water per day. Some US municipalities have set goals of 140-170 gallons per person, per day. Barb and Tom have set a goal of 30 gallons per person, per day.

Typical Home Water Usage

By living within this goal, Desert Rain will collect and recycle enough water for Tom and Barb and their guests to be graciously hydrated, clean, and surrounded by beautiful vegetation.

Life on the Blue Planet

We live on a planet made of water. Why bother? Because all the water that will ever be is, right now.

While the thought of all the water in the world is unfathomable, water is an intensely precious resource. Three quarters of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, 98% of that is salt water and not fit for human consumption.  What’s more, of the 2% that is fresh water, about 70 percent is locked in glacial ice and 30 percent in soil, leaving under 1% readily accessible for human use. Each drop is irreplaceable.

We invite you to read more about Water on the Desert Rain compound.

Additional Water facts via:

On the Fresh Edge of Green Building

Recently, we welcomed Michael McLandress to the Desert Rain Team. Adding Michael adds a friend, a neighbor, and someone incredibly dedicated to sustainability and green building.

Recently, we welcomed Michael McLandress to the Desert Rain Team. Adding Michael adds a friend, a neighbor, and someone incredibly dedicated to sustainability and green building.

With more than 30 years of experience building high-end commercial and residential buildings, Michael established his company, Brightwater Collaborative, in Bend in alignment with his passion for green building. Michael’s mission is to focus on sustainability in the built environment and when Timberline Construction brought him on as the Project Manager for Desert Lookout, we were thrilled.

On the Fresh Edge of Green Building

Michael came to Bend from the Bay Area, and started off on the green (or right) foot. His first job in Bend was as the Project Manager for the construction of Miller Elementary. This school was an important ‘first’ for Bend LaPine Schools as well as for our community. It was the first school on the east side of the Cascades, and the third in the State of Oregon, to be LEED for Schools Gold Certified. The $40 million project set the trajectory for Michael to work on more cutting edge, green projects in Central Oregon.

As Brightwater Collective, Michael is also currently working with OSU Cascades. The new 4-year, college campus will bring innumerable changes to our community and Michael is involved in planning for and development of the college’s multi-modal transportation plan. By working with Commute Options, local businesses, and citizens, Michael is looking to implement a plan from which the whole community can benefit.

As an engaged citizen, Michael, along with Tom, is on the Board of Directors for The Environmental Center.  He works with the rest of the board and staff on the non-profit’s mission to “embed sustainability into daily life in Central Oregon.” He’s also helped the non-profit meet some of it’s own operational needs by coordinating the donation of paint and painting services to keep the 25 year old center in good, structural condition.

Leading the Way for Desert Lookout

Michael McLandress and Lyndon Moore (Moore Climate Control)

Michael McLandress and Lyndon Moore (Moore Climate Control)

Michael professes that he loves being part of the Desert Rain Team, “I’m honored to be part of this cutting edge green building project. It’s a model project for Green building and sustainability.”

Desert Lookout makes the Living Building Challenge feasible for Desert Rain. This newest structure houses the composting system for our site’s blackwater – playing a crucial role on helping our home meet all the requirements of the LBC water petal. This structure, by way of obtaining a city permit to treat blackwater onsite, also allows the City of Bend to see that onsite water treatment will work on an individual, residential level.

Holding Our Breath Over Water

Ask the question, ‘what has been the biggest challenge in the process of building Desert Rain?’  The answer you will receive in one word – WATER!  Building a home to meet the requirements of the Living Building Challenge’s Water Petal, means building ‘net zero’ water in terms of source. This translates to all water needs for domestic and irrigation purposes being met by the precipitation that falls on the site.  With annual rainfall in the Bend area at 11” or less annually, – water collection and harvesting is paramount to meeting the criteria.  All the roofs on the 5 different structures feed into the 35,000 gallon cistern. That stored water will be filtered through a variety of systems and used for all domestic purposes.  The other side of the water issue, known as ‘ecological water flow’, has proven to be more difficult.  All water that falls on the site must remain on the site. This includes storm water and discharged water, both graywater and blackwater.

Jim Fagan, General Contractor performing some ‘first-aid’ on a temporary drain. When the project is completed, all the gutters on all 5 structures will collect and send water to the 35,000 gallon cistern.

In a standard construction process the water and wastewater systems would have been part of the infrastructure in place prior to any building.  Desert Rain is nearing completion, yet a couple of major permits have not been approved by the City of Bend and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.  The project is pushing the regulatory envelope and has created a trail of plans, submissions, rejections, revisions, and re-submissions. The latest plan is a 600 square foot bio-constructed wetland that will purify the graywater and pump it to a holding tank for irrigation use.  The blackwater from toilets and the dishwasher will be processed through a composting system housed in a building that has been named Desert Throne.  Liquids in the composter will be evaporated with a solar powered, hot- air panel. Solids will compost and be mechanically removed about once a year.  This latest plan is pending. There is disagreement whether the city or the Oregon DEQ has the final say.   Tom said, ‘The process on the one hand has been difficult, on the other it has been educational for all parties. The bureaucracy that we have put in place to protect ourselves serves us and can also hinder us, depending on how you view it.’

Many of the systems designed for Desert Rain are far beyond the ordinary and out of the comfort level of current codes and regulations.  While doing their jobs, some people in the regulatory agencies are embracing the idea of change, others are resistant.  A simple altering of language sometimes makes the difference. Changing the name of a system in one instance brought immediate approval from the city – with a different name the process may have taken weeks.  In April 2012 the DEQ implemented  regulations to allow the resuse of graywater for irrigation.  Desert Rain’s graywater system is the first in the State of Oregon to actually be built, go through the whole process and receive approval.   Tom believes everybody will be watching closely to make sure it has been done right. He said, ‘Regulatory agencies have a responsibility.  They are accountable if they approve something that doesn’t work out.  Certainly this is modeling something.  We hope there will be many more graywater systems installed and rain water catchment systems. The next one will have a much easier path from a regulatory position. ‘

In the high desert climate of Bend, any snow melt or rainfall is crucial to recharging the water in the cistern.

The water and wastewater systems have been an ongoing struggle since the design process began. It has been frustrating and expensive causing delays and concern for the unknown. What if they say, ‘no’ to the current plan, to Desert Throne, the composter, and the evaporation system? The city code requires Desert Rain to be tied to the city water and sewer system for safety purposes. That system is in place and could be used.  The Living Building Challenge requires tha Desert Rain  process all wastewater on site and does not allow any wastewater or stormwater to leave the site via city systems. That is a very obvious conflict of requirements and poses a looming question about certification for the LBC Water Petal.  Barb Scott, co-owner with Tom Elliott, said,  ‘ This has been a tough and frustrating issue. We are holding our breath.’   Desert Rain has been and continues to be, a demonstration project for the future of the built environment.  Hopefully, the awareness created by pushing the regulatory envelope will bring change. Then breathing over water will become a little easier for all of us.