More city public schools on tap to collect rainwater

The money isn’t falling from the sky, but collecting rainwater will save the school district cash.

Four San Francisco public schools will be adding cisterns to capture and reuse rainwater before the end of the calendar year, contributing to the thousands of dollars in utility savings.

Nik Kaestner, the San Francisco Unified School District’s director of sustainability, said Sunnyside, Robert L. Stevenson, Jose Ortego and Longfellow elementary schools were awarded community-challenge grants that will allow them to install 5,000-gallon tubs, known as cisterns, to capture rainwater.

Cesar Chavez, Lafayette, Starr King and Miraloma elementary schools are among those that already harvest rainwater. In total, 15 schools utilize it.

Kaestner said the growing acceptance and use allowed the district to expand its recycled-water ­projects.

“The popularity of reusing rainwater really hit The City 18 months ago,” he said. “That’s when the [San Francisco Public Utilities Commission] finally started publicizing rainwater harvesting and the legal issues around the code were finally changed to allow for harvesting of rainwater. So, we jumped on the chance and installed a simple multibarrel system at Cesar Chavez.”

The installation of these four cisterns will ultimately save the district thousands of dollars in water bills. Though amounts are specific to school sites and water consumption, Kaestner said, the cisterns are meant to reduce the reliance on water from Hetch Hetchy.

“All these schools have gardens and using superclean water on them is overkill,” he said. “This water can be used to water vegetable and native-plant gardens.”

Retrofits to use the captured rainwater in school toilets would cost thousands of dollars and may come in the future, but for now, the tubs are a happy medium, according to Kaestner.

The cistern installations will take a matter of days, Kaestner said. All schools should be up and running to capture water before the rainy season begins, typically in November. He said the rainwater collected should last one year at each school.

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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