From the Allston-brighton Tab:

It's raining, it's storing, the old ...
By Kathy Baskin/ Special To The Tab
Friday, April 8, 2005

Recently, Harvard University washed 19 vehicles - five buses, five vans, eight pick-up trucks and one police cruiser - all without turning on the faucet.
     Harvard University is the new owner of a SmartStorm Rainwater Recovery System at its vehicle maintenance facility on North Harvard Street in Allston. The system captures clean stormwater runoff from Harvard's vehicle maintenance facility rooftop and stores it in cisterns for vehicle washing and lawn irrigation. Using recycled rainwater, Harvard could wash more than 50 vehicles without running out of water.
     In urban and suburban areas, such as Allston and Newton, clean rainwater lands on the pavement and becomes contaminated by pollutants such as sediments, oil and fertilizers before being sent rushing by pipe to the Charles River or another local water body.
     Compounding the issue, impervious surfaces, such as pavement and buildings, prevent the rain from soaking into the ground, thus limiting the replenishment of the groundwater that keeps our streams and rivers flowing during the hot dry months of summer. With rainwater unable to seep into the groundwater, rivers including the Charles, suffer from low flows, high temperatures and increased pollution. Wetlands dry up, and fish that depend on flowing rivers for survival die off.
     Water everywhere
     At the same time that our stormwater is directed to the river through pipes, we commonly rely on perfectly good drinking water for outdoor washing and watering. A rainwater recovery system addresses both of these issues by redirecting the rainwater to a cistern for later outdoor use, thereby helping to reduce the use of drinking water.
     Rainwater recovery systems "keep water local," restoring the balance between land and rainwater that existed prior to development of roads and buildings. A number of these systems have been installed at homes and businesses in the upper Charles River watershed, where communities depend on groundwater for water supply and face strict watering bans starting as early as March and running through October. Rainwater recovery systems reduce demand on drinking water supplies for irrigation, reduce polluted discharges, and enhance aquifer storage, particularly during the summer months, helping to sustain public drinking water supplies and increase Charles River flow.
     Since last winter, when the system was installed, Harvard has saved money while conserving 2,000 gallons of water each month using rainwater to wash its vehicles. Previously, Harvard's vehicle wash water came from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority's Quabbin Reservoir. The new system limits the amount of stormwater that is combined with untreated wastewater and discharged to the Charles River during rainstorms.
     "Harvard University is pleased to be contributing to the cleanup of the Charles River while at the same time conserving water," said Carl Tempesta, manager of Harvard University's Passenger Transport and Fleet Management Services.
     The system features a drywell, which allows any excess water from the cisterns to soak into the ground. The project was developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and NSTAR. The Charles River Watershed Association managed the project and the system was designed and installed by RainWater Recovery, LLC.
     In addition to conserving water and cutting down on the pollution to the Charles, the SmartStorm System at Harvard is intended to inspire other outdoor water users to recycle their rainwater. Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office, calls this, "... a project that will provide useful information on how to solve stormwater problems in a heavily urbanized area."
      (Kathy Baskin is director of Projects of the Charles River Watershed Association.)