Thursday, August 19, 2010

Warning: Do not drink this post...

For those of you who are faithful blog followers (and really, who isn’t?), you’ll recall that we have spared no expense and many hours of design time to create an effective rainwater harvesting system. We’ll be capturing rainwater off the flat roof and bringing it down to a large cistern in the basement (see earlier posts for more details). Our intention was to use that non-potable water for flushing toilets and for outdoor hose bibs for garden irrigation and hosing down dirty kids and bikes.
Although the City recognizes the sustainability benefit of using non-potable water, they are not allowing us to have a hose bib at grade. The fear is that we might run a sprinkler (can’t imagine doing that), or run a  hose and a neighbour kid would drink the non-potable water, get sick and sue the City. In commercial projects we’ve been able to use locked hose bibs, meaning only someone with the key can open them up. For this project in a residential neighbourhood the City is not seeing that as an acceptable solution.
When time is ticking and we have crews on site we are forced into accepting the City’s decree and won’t be having a hose bib at grade. We just can’t afford the extra time to hold up the permit. We’ll still be having the cistern, using the water to flush toilets, and will have a locked hose bib on the roof to wash solar panels and water the veggies, but unfortunately will not be using it to water plants at grade. It is unfortunate that the chilling fear of litigation gets in the way of good green practice. What we are proposing is little more than a huge rain barrel. People have (thankfully) been using rain barrels for a very long time, using them to water the garden, and miraculously we don’t have neighbour kids dropping like flies from drinking stored rainwater.  In the end the fear of liability means we’ll be using treated and pumped water to get the dirt off our mountain bikes after filthy fall rides.
This is a symptom of too much litigation, but also the fact that municipalities are on the hook for joint and several liability in Ontario. That means if they are found 2% liable when a kid gets sick, they could be stuck paying the whole bill. This unnecessary exposure to liability puts a chill on all kinds of innovation. For that reason we are supporting AMO’s push to reform municipal liability – see: for more scintillating details.

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