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Scarcity of potable water leads to the use of non-potable water for landscape irrigation


Water has been considered as an inexhaustible resource for a long time. Its use was not really controlled or limited. The overusage inevitably led to shortages, and scarcity of potable water is now a reality that our world has to cope with. Only 1% of the world’s water is suitable for consumption and one-third of the world’s population lives in a region experiencing water shortages and does not have access to fresh drinking water, which accounts for 1.1 billion people in developing countries.

This scarcity comes from:

-          Drought and unusually dry conditions, like in 2007 in the Southeastern United States

-          Population growth, above all in regions where  there are a few inches of rain per year like in the Sun Belt

The scarcity of potable water has led to a rise in water prices throughout the United States. It has become obvious and inevitable that there is a need to find another way to use water in order to spare this resource.

The first practice affected by new restrictions and conservation measures is landscape irrigation. Landscape-watering restrictions were introduced in the US: just one-third of all domestic water use can be allocated for irrigation.  However, landscapes are valuable properties: they increase property values, decrease pollution and boost tourism. A solution had to be found in order to balance a decrease in potable water and the desire for irrigation. The best solution seemed to substitute the water supply with an alternative source: non-potable water.

Non-potable water is a term that includes: water from air-conditioning condensate, rainwater, stormwater runoff, treated residential wastewater, and brackish water (combination of sea and fresh water).

There are different ways and reasons of using non- potable water: 

  •  The United State Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program (LEED), part of the Green Building Movement, made the use of non-potable water for landscape irrigation a popular practice.   This program gives the opportunity of sites who want to have LEED certification to receive six to ten certification points by using recycled water and implementing efficient irrigation systems. Having the LEED-certification is advantageous to properties because they save money and energy. This program aims at giving site the incentive to use non-potable water for irrigation, but it is completely voluntary.
  • Using non-potable water is now required by some states and local agencies for new commercial properties and government facilities.  
  • There are tax incentives and rebates for residential and commercial buildings if non-potable water is used. This is always an appealing means at a time when the cost of municipal water and sewer services are increasingly high.

Using non- potable water for landscape irrigation includes some requirements to observe:

  • Brackish water : may require a reverse osmosis to remove excess salinity, which can be very expensive
  • Harvested water : systems to collect, filter, store and recycle stormwater
  • Reclaimed water: in Massachusetts, must be treated to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MA DEP) water re-use standards.

If the type of water used for irrigation changes, the irrigation system itself is going to change. Specifiers, landscape architects and contractors are going to design and implement new irrigation systems because non-potable water has different chemical properties than fresh water and non-potable water affects differently irrigation system components and design.

Research and development has revealed the components and priorities of reclaimed water. This water is unfit for consumption and can have a harsh effect on water transfer lines and irrigation system components. The challenge in designing irrigation systems for use with non-potable water is to make products that withstand all sources of non-potable water. Reclaimed water’s composition has been carefully analyzed by engineers and they found out that chemicals and compounds have a damaging effect on the performance of products like valves, rotors or sprays and they reduce their life expectancy. Engineers know that they now have to design and specify efficient and more durable products. 

The use of reclaimed water for landscape irrigation is not just a trend, it is a new practice that will keep on spreading all over the world in order to face the shortage of potable water.    Architects, specifiers, builders, legislators, and programs like the LEED program, will all contribute to promoting this new way of using water efficiently and wisely, and to educating customers. This new practice enables the customer to save water and money, and to act sustainably. Water savings and sustainable design meet an increased demand and this is not going to stop, because everyone recognizes the benefits of these products.

Norfolk will follow this blog posting with a posting providing more information on rainwater harvesting.


If you have any questions about rainwater harvesting or water re-use, please contact John McAllister at or at (508) 747 - 7900 x 117.

 Information in this article taken from November/December 2011, article by Lynette Von minden,  published in Water Efficiency. 


An innovative stormwater management system in Berkeley


A unique stormwater retention system was designed for the Center for the Visual and Performing Arts in Endicott College (Berkeley, MA). This facility is a large center with classrooms, a theater, labs, music rooms, gardens, house studios.

Endicott College had already installed a stormwater management system with overland ditches, swales and a gate-controlled pond system. The school showed interest in protecting the environment and becoming thoroughly involved in treating stormwater. They hired a local engineering company and its research team to develop a new stormwater system. One of the major challenges the research team had to cope with was too much ledge and not enough room here for treatment. They had to find out an innovative solution to face this constraint. Thus, instead of developing underground storage system, the research team chose to install a rooftop retention system.

Retaining stormwater directly on the roof is a unique concept. The project goal was to hold  6 in. of stormwater across the entire building footprint. Stormwater runoff requires treatment and infiltration in accordance with the MA DEP  (Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection) stormwater policy. The advantage of rooftop retention is that roof runoff does not have to undergo treatment as roof runoff is generally clean.

The Center’s roof is 28,550 ft² with catch basins. The team observed that water used to remain on the roof longer than it should and there was less efficient water storage. The team found a grate product with internal weirs that would automatically slow the rate of water running into a catch basin to counteract this.

After having developed this new roof stormwater retention system, the research team also added a sand filter in a parking lot. With both of these systems, Endicott College has an efficient and complete stormwater system that enables it to control all of the center’s runoff.

This project is part of the Center’s effort to be a “green” building. The Center belongs to the School’s Leadership In Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System. The Center has to make efforts to be as green as possible. Those efforts include reduced site disturbance, erosion and sedimentation controls, having rooftop gardens and landscape terraces. The Center has a natural look, many windows to reduce energy costs and was partially built with green materials.

The stormwater retention system at Endicott College is an innovating and efficient approach to stormwater management.


This article is a summary of a report from the Water Environment Federation.

Stormwater projects in Sherborn and Westport


Norfolk Ram Group was contracted by the Towns of Sherborn and Westport to put together an application for a section 319 Non-Point Source Pollution Grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MA DEP)  in 2010.

The two projects intend to improve water quality through the design, environmental permitting and construction of stormwater Best Management Practices (BMP) control and treatment systems in their target watersheds. The BMP controls will include low impact development (LID) techniques such as grass swales, bioretention rain gardens, subsurface infiltration systems and gas baffles. These projects will also incorporate on-going operation and maintenance, and a public outreach and education component.

In the Town of Sherborn, the project is focused on the Charles River watershed and particularly, the Farm Pond Recreation Area. The project main goal is to control stormwater runoff which is currently discharging into Farm Pond and reduce the concentration of non-point source (NPS) pollutants contained in stormwater runoff. The BMPs will be designed to filtrate, remove pollutants though uptake by plants and recharge stormwater runoff. The BMPs incorporate underdrains to collect and direct any excess treated stormwater to the existing drainage system, which will slow the rate of discharge to Farm Pond.

The Town of Westport desired to improve water quality for the Westport River, which ultimately discharges to Buzzards Bay, by focusing on the Westport Middle School. The Westport River is considered to be one of the most significant natural features in the Town. The various stormwater BMPs to be strategically placed around the school will intercept stormwater runoff which is currently discharging into the Town’s drainage network in the street and then into the East Branch of the Head of the Westport. This project will attempt to remove the stormwater “footprint” of the school to the greatest extent practicable. 

Both of the Town’s were recently awarded the grants and given a notice to proceed from the Massachusetts DEP.

For more information about stormwater management practices, low impact development, or grant application assistances, please contact John McAllister at or at (508) 747-7900 x 117.

Massachusetts DEP Issues “Technical Update” Regarding RCRA Land Disposal Restrictions and Contained-In Determinations


Last March we blogged about the need for careful soil management at redevelopment sites, including the pitfalls of dealing with RCRA wastes.  This month the Massachusetts DEP has released written guidance relative to one aspect of the management of RCRA waste; the state management of the federal “contained-in” policy.  This policy allows for certain low concentrations of RCRA “listed” waste to be treated as non-hazardous under very specific circumstance.  It is a tool that has the potential to achieve substantial savings at sites where management of RCRA waste is required (e.g. dry cleaners and former plating or jewelry manufacturing facilities).  A link to the DEP Technical Update is provided here

If you have questions regarding soil management or brownfields redevelopment please contact Jon Kitchen at (508) 747-7900 x154

In Massachusetts, environmental clean-up of some brownfields sites can receive as much as a 50% refund in the form of a tax credit.  Learn about the Brownfields Tax Credit and find out if you qualify!

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