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Cisterns could be water solution

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Soon to be buried, this tank at a house on Gardiners Bay Drive could be used to hold water or other substances such as fuel.

Soon to be buried, this tank at a house on Gardiners Bay Drive could be used to hold water or other substances such as fuel.

John Hallman has kept searching for an answer to provide potable water to those residents who don’t have it.

And now Mr. Hallman believes he’s found a solution that’s being implemented in Ohio: a rainwater or hauled-water supply cistern designed to improve and protect the health of that state’s residents.

Mr. Hallman brought the proposal to the Water Advisory Committee he chairs on April 14, suggesting it might meet the needs of Islanders who can’t drink their tap water. Just how many households are in this situation is unclear, but Mr. Hallman said he knows there are a number of households where that’s the case, whether on a constant basis or at hot, dry times of the year when there’s no water in their wells.

When he first pitched the notion that something should be done for residents who have no potable water, members of his own committee were mostly silent and the Town Board barely discussed it.

Current town code requires that cisterns be underground and filled with trucked-in water, not rainwater. But there has been some discussion by the town’s Irrigation Committee that the Town Board allow the collection of rainwater from roofs and gutters. It remains to be seen whether that will ultimately be a part of the committee’s final report.

The rainwater cistern collects rainwater from a roof and channels it through gutters to a collection tank for storage until it’s needed by a household. The hauled water storage system relies on trucked-in water from approved sources with haulers required to comply with health department regulations.

“Cisterns and hauled water storage tanks may be used where ground water is not available or is impractical to treat for home use,” according to information from Ohio’s Department of Health. Cisterns must have disinfection treatment systems to cleanse rainwater for drinking purposes, while that’s not necessary for those who use trucked-in potable water.

Ohio requires a minimum-sized cistern of 2,500 gallons while the hauled water systems must hold a minimum of 1,000 gallons.

Despite those minimums, Ohio suggests that cisterns be able to accommodate between 6,000 and 10,000 gallons of rain runoff or trucked-in water if the system is to serve year round as the main source of water. The Ohio department calculates the average household uses about 60 gallons of water per day.

Periodic droughts caused Ohio and a number of other states to explore ways to ensure water availability.

But the systems don’t come cheap.

Purchase and installation prices can range from a few thousand dollars to about $30,000, depending on the size and the materials used. There are also associated maintenance costs.

Trucked-in water is also expensive. Anyone who currently has a cistern for an irrigation system or brings in water to fill a swimming pool can tell you that it can cost $1,200 or more and that’s for a supply that gets recycled, at least for awhile. Cisterns used for drinking water and cooking need to be refilled more often as supplies become exhausted.

As for the cistern system that uses rainwater, it needs regular maintenance to treat the water to make it potable and steps must be taken to keep it free from possible contaminants.

It’s also essential that cisterns be disinfected before use and that regular samplings be done so the water remains potable.

It’s far from a set it and forget it operation for those who see a cistern — whether fed by rainwater or trucked-in water — as a solution to ensure an adequate supply of drinking water.

But in Mr. Hallman’s words: What’s the value of your property if you can’t drink the water?