The spirit of quirky Hill country enterprise is on display at nearby Tank Town, a skyline of catchment tanks in Necco Wafer hues. Here, Richard Heinichen harvests rainwater and filters it by reverse osmosis down to a ten-thousandth of a micron. Yes, it tastes good. “Made between Heaven and Earth over Dripping Springs, Texas,” brag the bottles, which are sold on-site and at assorted local businesses.
Pennies From Heaven
Readers Digest – April 2004
Money may not grow on trees, but for Richard Heinichen of Dripping Springs, Texas, it does fall from the sky. Using a half-acre collection system, he gathers rain water, filters it, bottles it – and sells it for a buck a pint. Heinichen (sounds like the beer), who claims he’s selling enough precipitation to break even, began saving the stuff after moving to Dripping Springs 14 years ago. “My well water was so hard it made my hair look like a fright wig, and it tasted like chalk,” he explains. But cloud juice is mineral-free. “It’s so refreshing,” he says, “It tastes like nothing.”
In Each Life, Some Rain Must Fall. Why Not Bottle It?
New York Times – January 8, 2004
By: Nora Krug
Dripping Springs, Texas
Ever tasted a raindrop and wondered, Why doesn’t someone bottle this stuff? Well, someone has and called it, aptly, Rain Water. Rain Water, the product, comes from Dripping Springs, where it is collected and bottled by Richard Heinichen, a 57-year-old former blacksmith. He fills about 1,500 bottles a day with the “cloud juice” that falls on Rain Water headquarters, wich he calls Tank Town. Mr. Heinichen (pronounced like the beer) said he sold about 170,000 16-ounce bottles last year – at about $1 each – and has more than a quarter-million gallons of water in storage.
Mr. Heinichen, who said he has invested nearly $500,000 in Rain Water and is just barely breaking even, began his quest nearly a decade ago as a way to quench his own thirst. Dissatisfied with the well water at his home, he built a small rain collector there. It worked so well that he began installing similar ones at other people’s homes, eventually establishing a business that helps finance the bottling of Rain Water.
One hot day, Mr. Heinichen was driving back from an installation job and found himself parched. He considered buying a bottle of spring water but thought better of it. (He so dislikes the taste of spring water that he relegates the water from a small spring at Tank Town to a duck pond.)
The “aha!” moment hit, “and right away I got so excited about it,” he said.
So why haven’t there been other “aha’s” – why has the $7 billion a year bottled-water industry drawn on sources as exotic as Fiji when rainwater is ubiquitous? For one thing, capturing and purifying large quantities of rain before it hits the ground is a considerable feat of engineering.
While rain has long been used as a water source in areas without a public water supply or where well water is unavailable or tainted, the amounts collected are usually small and rarely suitable for consumption without treatment. In addition to abosrbing pollutants from the air, once rainwater hits a surface like a roof, it collects contaminats that multiply when it is stored.
And the entire enterprise will work, of course, only if it actually rains. That is what makes Mr. Heinichen’s accomplishment even more surprising. Annual precipitation in Dripping Springs, despite its soggy name, averages only about 32 inches, nearly 17 inches less than in New York City.
But even that 32 inches, falling over a single acre, is enough to fill nearly seven million 16-ounce bottles of water a year, said Bill Lauer, an engineer with the American Water Works Association in Denver.
At Tank Town, Mr. Heinichen’s collection system starts with a little less than half an acre – 20,000 square feet – of parabolic metal roofs. After hitting the roofs, the rain flows into gutters, down pipes, through a preliminary filter, and into one of 13 tanks. It is filtered twice more and zapped with ultra-violet light before it is bottled.
The system is a bit Rube Goldberg. In fact, Tank Town itself looks a little like something out of a cartoon. One tank is painted to look like a turtle; others are pastel, suggesting bloated Easter eggs. A swimming pool is fashioned out of an old beer vat.
Mr. Heinichen has no formal scientific training. But he earned certificates in water-treatment-plant operation at Texas A&M and consulted an engineer while developing his plant.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved Rain Water for sale in 2001 after Mr. Heinichen installed a laser particle counter to check for impurities. A commission spokeswoman said the water is regularly inspected and no problems have been found.
Mr. Heinichen said he originally expected Rain Water to be an instant hit. But business began to trickle.
Jennifer Braafladt, bar manager at the Hotel San Jose in Austin, where a bottle of Rain Water is put in every room, said that guests often joke about whether the hotel collects the water from its own roof.
“Somehow I have to convince people that rainwater isn’t really dirty,” Mr. Heinichen said. To that end, he is trying to come up with a new label that no longer uses the image of a darkening cloud, wich some have told him looks like a smudge.
Mr. Heinichen has already turned Rain Water into something of a cult hit. The local Curves gym and a Whole Foods Market and several restaurants in Austin are among the places that sell it. Customers as far awas as New York and Oregon order it online at rainwatercollection.com
Unlike some other bottled waters, Rain Water contains no minerals, which some say add flavor.
“It has a nice, sweet taste,” said Lynn Helton, a customer in Dripping Springs.
Others are simply drawn by the gimmick. Peggy Smith, owner of the Curves gym, down the road from Tank Town, said she isn’t sure Rain Water tastes different from any other water, “but I keep thinking of the novel idea of cloud juice.”
Richard Heinichen simply refused to settle for unacceptable well water. That determination lead to the birth of a full-scale rainwater collection and bottling facility in Dripping Springs – and earned him the honor of becoming the first (and only) company licensed to bottle rainwater in America.
Heinichen, the pioneer behind Richard’s Rainwater, founded Tank Town 20 years ago after collecting his own rainwater and receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from friends and neighbors. His branded, bottled rainwater has been around for almost six years.
“I didn’t mean for it to happen, but this turned into quite a business,” Heinichen said.
With 15 rainwater tanks and a storage capacity of 300,000 gallons of water, he’s not kidding. But surprisingly enough, droughts are a non-issue at Tank Town; Heinichen said they wouldn’t begin to feel the effects until after 200 consecutive days without rain.
“Noah didn’t build the Ark when it was raining,” he said. “We store water; it has no shelf life. It’ll last forever. If you store it properly you’ll never have a problem with it.”
Similar to cultivating a fine wine, he ages his water and employs a proprietary method before bottling.
“That’s what’s kinda neat,” Heinichen said. “When it rains, I don’t use that water for over a year.”
Heinichen was also the first company in the nation licensed to use rainwater as the sole source of water for a public water supply – but earning that distinction didn’t come easily. The Health Department informed Heinichen he was breaking the law by bottling rainwater because it wasn’t an approved water source.
“So I asked the City where their water came from, and they said they’re getting it from the Colorado River,” he said. “But where does that come from? Keep going back enough and all water is rainwater.”
It took Heinichen four years to get Richard’s Rainwater on the shelf. He hired engineers who created a pioneer bottling plant that went on to – perhaps ironically – receive an award from the Health Department.
“They approved me on the first go-round,” Heinichen said. “They said, ‘This is fantastic. We applaud you.'”
But Heinichen didn’t rest on his laurels for long. Running the plant meant going back to school, so he attended both The University of California, Berkeley and Texas A&M to become a certified public water operator.
“It’s been a long haul, but they can’t take it away now,” Heinichen laughed.
Since Tank Town is not located over a recharge zone and the water isn’t pulled from springs, Tank Town has zero impact on the environment. Richard’s Rainwater, nicknamed “Cloud Juice,” is bottled on-site to avoid the need for chlorination – a legal necessity for competitors like Ozarka in order for water to be transported before bottling. Ozarka’s springs dried up years ago so they now truck water in to be bottled, which means the water must be chlorinated, he said.
“People are paying a ridiculous price for a poor quality water,” he said.
While Heinichen was quick to praise any attempts to filter city water, he contends there’s still no comparison between Richard’s Rainwater and, for example, Brita-filtered water because there’s nothing in rainwater – and there never was. Yet as pure as his water is, Heinichen’s rainwater still undergoes reverse osmosis and UV filtering to kill any lingering bacteria.
“Whatever people are doing to make their water pure, that’s wonderful,” Heinichen said. He maintained that most city water supplies have chemical elements present that could prove harmful to people.
“It’s kinda like we’ve got our heads in the sand about water quality,” Heinichen said. “[Rainwater is] the only way you can really guarantee yourself some safe, pollution-free water that’s naturally soft. You can’t make it with any machines.”
Mentioning the Edwards Aquifer in San Antonio, he said he’s also worried about the quantity of city water left for future generations.
“There’s an interesting fact about water: it’s about 500 feet below your seat,” Heinichen said. “It takes 30 years for that water to get down there. We’re pumping that stuff out faster than the water can recharge.”
Heinichen said rainwater might also have health benefits. A Richard’s Rainwater devotee called him and explained that her baby had recurring rashes – until she began washing her baby in rainwater. Heinichen said he thinks this has something to do with rainwater being a universal solvent, which means it’s “the only water” that will completely remove the soap out of hair and clothes.
Heinichen said he also has three followers who claim their migraines return if they drink anything else. One man who dropped by Tank Town said he’s been using a rainwater collection system for years and would readily give up air conditioning before having to go without rainwater.
Heinichen offers a private labeling service at Tank Town for several clients, including Mercedes-Benz, Austin Java and Texas Pure Rain. He said most of his clients have been upfront about their water essentially being Richard’s Rainwater with a different label – with the exception of Pure Rain. Sold at Central Market, Whole Foods and several Walgreens locations, Pure Rain is competing directly against Richard’s Rainwater.
“It could be damaging to me if (Pure Rain) is sold cheaper than my water,” Heinichen said.
Pure Rain Managing Principal David Schraub said his goal with Pure Rain is to donate at least 50 percent of sales to their sister company, Natural Renewable Energy, in order to offset the cost of building solar energy collection racks. Schraub aims to position Texas as number one in both solar and wind energy.
“Yes, Texas has natural gas and oil,” Schraub said, “but we also need something that’s carbon and footprint-free. The public needs to do something, and not rely on the government to do something. Here’s a way to support it and do it.”
Since he’s busier than he’s ever been, Heinichen said he now wants to get out of private labeling so he can get back to focusing on Richard’s Rainwater and selling rainwater collection systems for home use.
“I’ve probably seen a 20 percent increase in my business every year for the past 20 years,” Heinichen said. “We’ve had hundreds – I think maybe 350 families and systems we support. Two years ago we were selling 200 cases (of Richard’s Rainwater) a month; now we’re selling 300 (cases) a week.”
Which is why Heinichen said he’s content to keep Richard’s Rainwater on the shelves of Wheatsville and off the shelves of Wal-Mart. He said he wants to keep the business small and personal.
“It’s peaceful out here,” Heinichen said, gesturing to the rainwater tanks from under the shade of a tree. “I don’t want trucks constantly coming in here and ruining it.”
Heinichen said word of mouth is really the best way to advertise, and referenced Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point to explain how he intends to reach people with Richard’s Rainwater.
“It’s all paid off, I’ve got people totally addicted,” Heinichen said. “That’s all I wanted to do, really, was to make sure people endorsed it and believed in it the way I do.”
Not that Heinichen is in it to reap financial rewards.
“There’s no money in it,” he said. “I don’t need to do it. I just enjoy it.”
The owners of the Lake Austin remodel hired Tank Town, based in nearby Dripping Springs, Texas, to create their own rainwater-collection system. Led by founder Richard Heinichen, the company has installed hundreds of systems locally and even produces its own bottled water. On this particular project it assembled a roof wash tank and a sand filter to give collected water two major cleanings before being pumped into the storage tanks. The water then passes through a 2-mocron filter and under a ultraviolet light for further purification. To simplify maintenance, Tank Town kept the filters aboveground, concealed in outbuildings and behind landscape walls. The entire system lets the clients enjoy pure, clean water while conserving a natural resources–and avoiding a city water bill.
A reader said he had heard of the practice of shredding leaves prior to using them as mulch but wondered about the reason behind it. Was it just to make it easier to dispose of the leaves, since, once shredded, the load would be more compact? Or was there some other benefit?
What is it that you’re hoping to accomplish in landscaping your property line? Once you answer that over-arching question, many of the details will fall into place (with a little aid from the ideas I present here). As you’ll see from reading the information below, deciding on how to landscape a boundary largely comes down to sifting through your various options.