Rainwater Harvesting on the UGA Campus

BY: Christina Cannon

Water conservation is a pressing issue in today’s society, and The University of Georgia is helping combat that with their use of cisterns on and around the campus.

A cistern is a collection system for rainwater, and the university now has 15 of them. The 15 cisterns — totaling over 530,000 gallons according to the Office of Sustainability — collect rainwater and redistribute it for non-potable sources. This means the water is not consumed but is used for other things such as irrigation, flushing toilets, and cooling buildings.


The first cistern was installed in 2005 underneath the Memorial Garden.

“At the time it was perceived as an unnecessary and an extravagant use of dollars for a tank that was used to store rainwater when we had plenty of water,” said Office of Sustainability Director, Kevin Kirsche, recalling the first cistern installation.

When an outdoor watering ban was issued in 2007 because of a drought, the campus was still able to keep the Memorial Garden alive by using the water from the cistern. This changed how many people at UGA looked at water conservation and was a catalyst for more cistern installations.

The majority of the water held in a cistern comes from rainwater, but according to the UGA Extension’s website, only 62 percent of rainwater hitting a roof will be collected. Water can also come from condensation when cooling buildings.

“This is great,” said Kirsche, “because we are creating water when we really need water. Condensation happens in summer when we get less rain.”

Cisterns can help the environment in more ways than just water conservation. As the American Rainwater Catchment Society Association notes on their website, cisterns can also reduce erosion and retain storm water which could contain toxins.

Kirsche thinks that having cisterns at an institution the size of UGA is becoming more common, but the university is still a leader in the sustainability of water resources.

 “As an institution of higher education, we should be investing in sustainable strategies for the future. This should be a living laboratory…and students have the benefit of connecting with and learning from these systems because students go out and build the cities of the future,” said Kirsche.

Find a map of cisterns on campus here. 

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