Breathe – September/October, 2005
By: Jennifer Acosta
When threatening clouds gather over the rolling fields of Richard Heinichen’s Texas Hill Country farm, the 57-year-old smiles–and with good reason. As the self-proclaimed mayor of “Tank Town,” a collection of 10,000-gallon Easter-egg-colored vessels on the west side of the farm, it’s Heinichen’s job to catch the water that falls from the sky, which he then bottles and sells nationwide.
Heinichen got the idea for his product, dubbed Rain Water, in 1992, after being disappointed by the taste and mineral content of water from a well he’d drilled. Developing his own rainwater collection system, he gathered “cloud juice” that was soft and sweet-smelling. Today, he produces about 5,000 bottles a week.
Unlike his competitors, Heinichen forgoes chlorine and other chemicals during his water-purification process. Filters remove pollen, dust, and other particles, while UV lights and reverse-osmosis membranes take care of bacteria. The resulting product, he says, is purer that the big-name brands, which often fail to completely remove harmful substances. “Herbicides and heavy metals–people don’t know they’re drinking those.”
Rain Water has become popular and fashionable in Heinichen’s home state–guests at the funky Hotel San Jose in Austin find it in their rooms. And soon the whole country may get a taste; Heinichen is in negotiations with a major department store to provide bottled water for its locations nationwide (order your own at rainwater.org).
The biggest challenge has been convincing people that water from the sky can be a clean, safe beverage. “They still think it’s dirty,” Heinichen complains. “But it falls through the air they’re breathing every second of the day.” The Texas entrepreneur, however, is game to address this misconception: “I’ll take that on next,” he says, smiling. “I’ll give people cleaner air.”