You’ve heard of harvesting crops, but harvesting rain? It’s a method used by a Mexican group, Isla Urbana, to collect and clean rainwater for households, schools and health clinics. The system is inexpensive and easy to install and could provide homes with much-needed access to a clean water supply.

Isla Urbana says if rainwater harvesting were implemented on a large scale throughout Mexico City, it could provide 30 percent of the city’s water and offer a sustainable source to the 12 million Mexicans currently without access to clean water.

With more than half the world’s population living in cities, people are seeking ways to help ensure a sustainable urban environment. Isla Urbana’s innovative solutions help answer one of the most basic needs: access to clean water. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City has helped support Isla Urbana’s efforts.

How it works

Rainwater harvesting projects often involve storing stormwater runoff and using it to flush toilets and wash clothes. Under Isla Urbana’s method, the rain is collected, filtered and stored in massive containers. This gives families who aren’t connected to public water systems access to water for bathing, drinking and cooking. It also helps the environment and brings the whole concept of rainwater harvesting to a larger community.

Two photos: man on boat in canal and person pouring water on lettuce plants (© AP Images)
This farmer lives in a part of Mexico that has a lot of canals but did not have enough water clean enough for him to drink and wash produce. A new rain-harvesting system has changed that. (© AP Images)

“It’s so rewarding to see the families and how their lives have changed with the systems,” Jennifer White, director of community relations at Isla Urbana, told the Associated Press.

By capturing rainwater, the flow of stormwater to drains is reduced, cutting back on flooding that is common in parts of Mexico City. It also decreases the amount of energy used to pump and transport water to households. In addition, harvesting the rain as it falls could reduce demand for water from rivers and aquifers.

Representatives from all over the world will meet in Quito, Ecuador, from October 17 to 20 to talk about sustainable urban development at a conference dubbed “Habitat III.” Sustainable development and resilience are two of the conference themes that solutions like Isla Urbana’s address.

This article draws on reports from the Associated Press.