Heaven sent water conservation may end reliance on utilities

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Another example of how old things become new again was revealed last week when Marshall County planning commissioners mulled over their regulatory responsibilities and whether government should regulate cisterns.

Other residential water systems for rural homes without so-called city water service had been reviewed another time by officials and landowners, and cisterns - storage tanks for rainfall collected from a roof or some other collection area - were considered.

The idea is not new. Some Middle Tennessee homes channeled rain from roofs to an underground cistern, usually directly below the house. Beyond being a water reservoir, it also cooled the house in the summer.

Don Nelson, the county's building and zoning official, brought the subject to planning commissioners when they met on March 22 in the Marshall County Courthouse Annex.

A golf putting green could be built over a cistern and the grass, topsoil, and various other layers of subsoil, filtration rocks and sand could channel stormwater into the collection tank, Nelson said.

"This would open the door for alternative water sources if the lender agrees," the building official said, drawing a question from Planning Commissioner Todd Tietgens.

Why, Tietgens asked, is the bank involved?

"Banks," Nelson replied, "sometimes rely on us, saying, 'You wouldn't have allowed them to build a house without a water supply."

Planning Commissioner Bill Derryberry said one of his sons built a house with a good spring as the source of water. Large national banks wouldn't issue a loan for that house.

Subdivision of farmland for homes in the north end of the county raised questions about people having septic tanks and well water, according to discussion that the chairman steered back to the issue of cisterns.

"Do we need to police this?" Wakefield asked.

Derryberry advocated restrictions on how farm fields could be subdivided, but he emphasized that he didn't have an opinion on cisterns as an alternative source of household water.

"When I grew up," he said, "people with cistern water - it didn't taste good to me."

Wakefield noted other issues.

"In Texas, the ground water has 'Round-Up' in it," the chairman said referring to a brand-name weed killer.

The building official offered insights from a neighboring county.

"In Maury County, you could have Berlin Spring in your back yard," Nelson said, "but you'd have to drill" a well for household water because of county restrictions.

The discussion during the Tuesday evening meeting last week was "just a starting point" for consideration of the issue of what a regulator should do if a builder wanted to install a cistern at a house, he said.

"I don't see opening the flood gates of people because the vast majority who come to my office have a bank involved," Nelson said.

Acknowledging no decision was required that evening, Wakefield noted, "We've probably got as much surface water as ground water" in Marshall County.

Shortly thereafter Planning Commissioner Lavoy Ledford seconded Derryberry's motion to table the discussion until the panel met again. The other commissioners agreed.