Commentary – District 25 Candidate Suggests St. Paul’s Water Woes Can Be Solved By Collecting Rainwater.

Ramiro Navarro, Democrat candidate for Oregon House District 25, has revealed his “innovative idea” for solving St. Paul’s water issues. Navarro’s solution would have the City and its residents catch and recycle rainwater.

The revelation came following the January 8th St. Paul City Council meeting and a discussion with Mayor Martin Waldo, who Navarro said has “… personal experience with the collection of rain water, at an industrial level.”  According to Navarro, rainwater harvesting is easy. “Or, as we say in the military, too easy.”, he said. 

Oregon does allow rainwater collection for personal use, but a deeper look reveals the flaws of Navarro’s grand idea. 

Oregon’s statewide building codes (Appendix M) list a number of requirements for installation of rainwater collection systems used for potable water because contaminants can be found in collected rain water from environmental sources, chemicals, animal sources and from materials used in and around the neighborhood from which the rainwater is collected.

Insects, animals, bacteria, viruses and parasites also create
potential sources of contamination of a rainwater water supply that is not properly serviced and constantly maintained.

The list of requirements is lengthy. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Rainwater can only be collected off the roof of a structure.
  • The roof material must be of certain materials such as metal and specially coated with an non-toxic epoxy or elastomeric costing approved for rainwater collection.
  • Specialized and approved gutters and downspout fittings are required.  No trees or shrubs taller than the gutter are permitted within 20′ of the roof.
  • Water must be diverted into a closed storage tank, where it must be treated and filtered to remove sediments, disease-causing pathogens and parasites and regularly tested. After filtration by two separate online filters, an automatic disinfection device using chemical injection, ozone generators or ultraviolet (UV) light must be installed.
  • All storage systems, pumps, and piping must be of approved materials and design.
  • Harvested rainwater must be tested at least every six (6) months and found safe by an analytical testing laboratory before drinking.
  • The system owner must have it inspected annually.
  • Most importantly, the installation cannot be connected to a public water system.

Based on Salem’s average monthly rainfall of 3.24 inches, the average St. Paul Home would need a 10,000 gallon storage tank to meet its water needs. A round tank of that size is 12′ high and 12′ in diameter.  (Try fitting one of those in your yard, folks.  They can be placed in-ground if you know someone with a backhoe and a crane.)

We won’t even try to describe the complexity and costs of trying to build a municipal drinking water system using a rainwater collection system. Land acquisition, engineering, and construction could cost several million dollars, and the cost passed on to St. Paul water customers, numbering about 169 service connections.

So… who would pay for the retrofitting and new installation of each water service in St. Paul? Navarro hasn’t SAID.  Residents? The City? New taxes or a bond? Either way, it comes out of your pocket.  Would it be voluntary or mandatory? Do all residents still pay for City water services, or just those who decide to remain connected to the City water system which must make up lost customer revenues through increased water fees. Nope, that wasn’t discussed either.  Does the Mayor really think this is a viable option for St. Paul?

Oregon needs legislators and local elected officials willing to bring innovative ideas to the table, but those ideas need to be grounded in common sense and fiscally conservative.  Navarro’s idea fails on both counts.

Navarro certainly deserves some credit for showing interest in St. Paul’s water woes and is probably sincere in his desire to help, but he needs to do his homework before addressing issues, and may not be experienced enough to serve in the Legislature.