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Rain man: Jerry Block plans to save every drop

September 1, 2009 |  9:38 am

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Jerry Block's house in Monte Sereno, Calif., just west of San Jose, looks ordinary enough, but peek in his backyard and you'll see an elaborate water-harvesting system that will collect as much as 20,000 gallons per year.

Considering that a typical American household of four can use about 400 gallons of water a day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and UNICEF estimates that a person could live off just 5 gallons per day, Block's storage system might seem excessive. But the green-minded retired anesthesiologist says the size and scope of his system -- four massive holding tanks and specialized rain gutters -- were determined by how much water he would need to irrigate an acre of land. His goal, he says, will be to store enough water in the rainy season to irrigate crops and produce food the rest of the year.

“We sized our system according to how much water we’d need to grow enough trees, fruits and vegetables for two people,” Block says. “We get about 15 inches of rain, and we live on an acre of land, so that works out to about 20,000 gallons of irrigation water per year.”

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JerryBlock_LATimes_6 Could Block's setup be duplicated in other regions, assuming a homeowner had the land and didn't mind the look? Yes. The problem is that the rainwater technically is gray water -- not clean enough for drinking or bathing. Block insists that his water could be filtered easily and inexpensively, and even without a filtering system, he says he could help his neighbors in the event of fire.

“We could also use it for the toilets,” he adds. “But we haven’t done that yet.”

Block spent $29,000 on the system, which was made by Rain Harvesting Systems and Gutterglove. “But I see it as a long-term investment into a very critical infrastructure,” he says.

Block sees deep geo-political ramifications. Water, he points out, is tied to energy production, and by weaning ourselves off water, we’re weaning ourselves off foreign interests. “I see this as a patriotic act,” he says.

“People don’t realize just how scarce fresh water is getting. We really take it for granted.”

-- Paul Young

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Photos, from top: Jerry Block and his four water storage tanks; a detail of the Gutterglove Gutterguard, a filter that prevents leaves and other debris from entering the system; the Rain Harvesting Systems setup includes a red pipe that serves as a "roof washer" (a secondary filter to remove contaminants such as bird droppings) and a green pipe that delivers rainwater to the storage tank; Block lets out some of the water from a tank.

Photo credit: Robert Lenney

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