Rain Brothers Bringing Back a Bygone Conservation Method

When Zach “Gordy” Smith and brothers Jonathan and Michael Maier started a business together in 2007, they didn’t look far for a name.

The men, fittingly, called their Columbus-based rainwater harvesting business Rain Brothers.

“Honestly, we thought it would be easy to remember,” says Jonathan. “Gordy and I are like brothers and we’re in the rain business, so it just made sense.”

Over the last four years, Rain Brothers has constructed rain barrels, tanks, and cisterns for hundreds of commercial and residential customers− a fact that probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows the Meiers, as the family has created access to water for more than 80 years.

Read our interview with Jonathan to learn what experience compelled him to continue his family’s legacy, how rainwater harvesting benefits our environment, and why he says rainwater conservation will become standard practice.

Melanie McIntyre: What inspired you to start a business constructing and installing rainwater harvesting systems?

Jonathan Meier: I worked with an organization on the near eastside for several years focusing on urban agriculture and job creation− Four Seasons City Farm. In the first few years of the organization, we had trouble getting water access to some of our garden sites, so I started making rain barrels and setting up rain harvesting systems to remedy the situation. The passion grew from there. Also, though, I come from a long line of well drillers, so water is in the blood.

MM: You have residential and commercial customers. Are their needs generally different?

JM: Yes. Generally our commercial installations are much larger in scale than residential systems. Most commercial properties already have lawn irrigation in place, and they are looking for ways to cut their water costs, so we install large-scale systems −generally underground systems− to serve as the primary water source for on-site irrigation.

On the flipside, most of our residential systems are backyard barrels/tanks. Many residential customers are looking to save money, conserve water, and use an alternative to chlorinated city water to irrigate their vegetable gardens and/or landscape.

There is a third group though: rural properties. We are licensed Private Water Systems Contractors in the state of Ohio, so we install rainwater harvesting tanks −usually underground and fairly large-scale− and filter the rainwater to potable-grade for use as drinking water and water for indoor plumbing.

MM: Tell me a bit about the various rainwater harvesting systems you offer.

JM: We do systems of all shapes, sizes, and types, from backyard rain barrels, to high-density polyethylene tanks −up to 6,000-gallon− to above-ground corrugated galvanized tanks −up to 300,000-gallon− to underground HDPE, concrete, and modular cisterns− up to 500,000-gallons.

MM: What do your customers do with the water they collect?

JM: Most of our customers are irrigating with the rainwater, since rainwater has several advantages over city water.  However, we do install systems where the rainwater is filtered to potable-quality for use in private water systems, specifically in rural areas where public water is not available. We’ve also installed systems where rainwater is used to supply water closets −toilets− and laundry, including such a system for a band member from the Flaming Lips.

MM: What are the environmental benefits associated with rainwater harvesting?

JM: There is quite a bit of energy used to deliver water to a residence, be it in pumping stations or in aeration/filtration. Why use the energy to make water potable if the water is going to be flushed down the toilet or used to wash clothes or used to spray on a lawn or in a garden? Potable water is a precious, energy-intensive resource, so the more we can conserve it and use alternative water, the more we progress toward sustainability.

More than that, though, stormwater management has become a serious problem in recent years. Currently, most homes and certainly most commercial facilities are draining rainwater/stormwater and running it into the streets and directly into our storm sewers. Water that goes into our storm sewers travels, unfiltered, directly into our rivers and streams. Along the way, the water picks up salt from the road, oil, antifreeze, etc.

Moreover, because our cities keep growing, there is less and less rainwater that is soaking into the ground and returning to our water table/aquifers, and more and more that is being dumped straight into our rivers. Because of this, the rivers and streams go through rapid shifts in water level, causing quick erosion and flooding, which doesn’t usually take place in the city where infrastructure controls flooding, but downstream in the rural communities that have no way to manage floods.

The more we can capture and use stormwater/rainwater on site, the more we will help not only build our water table, but also prevent degradation of water quality and our watershed.

MM: Do you expect rainwater harvesting efforts to increase in the years ahead?

JM: Absolutely! Not only do I expect efforts to increase as water prices continue to increase, but I also truly believe that rainwater harvesting is a solution that is so affordable and simple to implement that it will become standard practice, just as it was for our grandparents and great-grandparents.

To learn more about Rain Brothers, visit RainBrothers.com.