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Rainwater Harvesting Systems – Is It Worth The Investment

Originally published in The Star dated 24 April 2014

I am a financial analyst by profession and have always been a frugal consumer. Whenever it comes to purchasing something, my first consideration is price. With the heightened costs of essential items, the common questions I ask before making buying an item are: “How much?”, “What is my return on investment? Does its benefit commensurate with its cost? What is my payback period? Value for money?” Likewise, I would also do the same when investing in water-saving tools like a rainwater-harvesting system, despite their nature-friendly intentions.

It can’t be argued that rainwater-harvesting tools indeed yield us very marginal monetary savings.

It has to be a fraction of our water fee which is not hefty to begin with. Payback period? 40-50 years long. Can rainwater substitute tap water fully? No, as rainwater is only limited to non-potable use such as toilets, gardens, and, if you’re comfortable, car washing. From a financial standpoint, the idea of investing in rainwater-harvesting systems seem completely absurd. Why bother harvesting rainwater when water tariff is so low? This is where we could be wrong.

While living in the moment, we inadvertently leave out a very crucial concern – future cost.

We suffered a very bad drought last month, with no rain for more than 20 days.

This was on top of the water rationing that residents of Klang Valley were already facing. The drought had subsequently improved resulting in less forest fires, after many rounds of generous rainfall. Despite that, water reserves are still reportedly dwindling, with supply enough to only last 80 days.

When a state emergency occurs, the freedom to use hoses to water gardens and to clean cars may be taken away from us. Apart from our lack of options but to leave our potted plants there to die, businesses that use a large quantity of water, like car wash operators, may also be asked to stop operating. In fact, many businesses including food and beverage operators and even manufacturers have cut down operating hours due to water rationing. Should this persist, and businesses are affected, production of goods and food is going to deteriorate significantly.

Take the fruits we consume daily as an example. According to news reports, the drought has caused 60% fall in fruit production in peninsular Malaysia. The country’s economic progress deterrence aside, what would be the immediate impact on us? Cost hikes on account of lack of supplies, on top of the possible increase in water tariffs as well as the escalated price of sugar, petrol and electricity tariff that we are already bearing.

People need to realise that our potential rise in costs could extend across many other essentials apart from just water.

The bright side to this is many homes, albeit a small percentage, are now carrying the foresight that our water resources may soon be depleted. In a bid to reserve our treated water for essentials and hygiene needs, these households are making conscious decisions to reduce reliance on treated water by substituting treated water with rainwater for flushing and garden needs. These conscious consumers understand that every flush flushes away 2 persons’ daily drinking needs, as opposed to basing their buying decisions on return-on -investment like evaluations that tell very little about the future.

A rainwater-harvesting tank, even the smallest in size, saves us up to 300 litres of water every time in rains. If this amount of water is saved from being flushed, we could guard up to 100 individuals’ daily drinking needs.

If it rains once every week, we could cumulatively secure 400 individuals’ daily drinking needs and 4,800 individuals’ a year! If this is not enough, take into account the number of households in Malaysia and the drastic positive impact this could create.

As is the case with whether the glass is half full or half empty, it is the same whether harvesting rainwater is meaningful or costly for the average consumer.

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