How to make a buck from rainwater

When a summer rainstorm rolls in and water is pouring out of my gutters because the down spouts are clogged, I think of William Levitt. He's the man who took a thousand acres on Long Island and created Levittown, the first major housing development in America. I read that Levitt once declared, "No man who owns his own house and lot can be a communist. He has too much to do."

I admit that when I'm perched on a ladder getting soaked while scooping gobs of leaves from the gutters, communism is the farthest thing from my mind. What I really wonder about is why I'm not doing a better job of utilizing local squalls and downpours for capitalist purposes.

Many cities around the country now allow residents to install collection systems that store rainwater for garden use and other nondrinking purposes. It's a great idea, but in my opinion the current technology doesn't go far enough.

Rather than sticking a big plastic holding tank next to my house, I would prefer to use a subterranean approach. It's my understanding that as a property owner, I have legal authority over territory beneath the surface, presumably all the way down to the earth's core. It would be nice if someone could invent a simple way to enter my basement and hollow out a long, vertical cavern the size of a Saturn rocket. To me, the future of water storage and reuse is volume, volume, volume.

Right now most water collectors are happy to save money by reducing their use of municipal supplies. I think significant monetary benefits will come when we little guys can sell our product on the open market. When a liquid commodity is in demand, it's nice to have several hundred thousand gallons ready to auction off to the highest bidder. I'm too far along in life to start wildcatting for oil, but harvesting surplus rain is a tempting idea.

I suspect the water market will also attract middlemen. After all, someone has to get the product from point to point. Remember "Hands Across America," that fundraiser for the homeless that went coast to coast? The same principle could be applied here. Replace the word "hands" with "multistate network of flexible plastic tubing."

For now, unfortunately, all I can do is watch as this valuable resource falls out of the sky, and then trickles down the numerous drains we city folks have designed to get rid of it. William Levitt would have understood my predicament. As a man who owns his own house and lot, I am not now, nor have I ever been, blessed with enough free time to transform any of my big ideas into reality.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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