New water capture system is a modern take on the old cistern

  • Johnson's pondless waterfall with 1,000 gallon RainXchange system.

    Johnson's pondless waterfall with 1,000 gallon RainXchange system.

Posted7/31/2010 12:01 AM

Pat Graceffa envied her neighbor's beautiful backyard pond. The Sugar Grove woman was even more impressed when she discovered the pond was not only a lovely accent, but also part of an underground storage system for rainwater captured from her neighbor's gutters.

It just so happens her neighbor is Ed Beaulieu, chief sustainability officer of Aquascape Inc. of St. Charles, and one of the inventors of the new system.


The RainXchange rainwater harvest system was introduced to the marketplace in 2008 after Beaulieu and Dave Kelly, Aquascape's vice president of product development, realized that homeowners were becoming more conscious of green issues. They believed it was time to transform the beautiful ponds and fountains they had been installing for years into something that serves a purpose beyond beauty.

So the two began designing a rainwater capture system that would combine a recirculating, decorative water feature with a below-ground rainwater harvest storage system.

RainXchange captures rainwater running off a roof and through the downspouts, puts it through several different natural filters like gravel and sediment, and then stores it in a plastic underground tank, said Jennifer Zuri, marketing and communications manager for Aquascape. The water is then pumped back up to the surface and put through an aboveground water feature like a waterfall or fountain. This movement aerates the water, preventing stagnation and the growth of algae and bacteria, Zuri said.

A separate pump is also installed to allow the homeowner to attach a small hose to the system. He or she can then use the hose to water nearby landscaping; wash cars, patios or decks; and top off swimming pools and hot tubs.

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When the system is subjected to heavy rainfall like that experienced in the Chicago area recently, extra water is pumped into an overflow tank from which it then soaks deep into the ground to replenish the aquifer below, instead of flowing into the storm sewer and eventually draining into the Mississippi River.

"Many homeowners think that the water running off their roof just soaks through their grass and into the aquifer anyway. But the truth is that many people have a thatch so thick on their lawn that the water is unable to soak in (quickly) and it runs off into the storm sewer anyway," Zuri said.

The RainXchange system works with any roof and gutter system. It can also be placed underneath permeable pavers on patios and driveways to capture water there.

"Most people start by installing the system to catch the water coming out of one downspout, but you could conceivably do it for all of your downspouts," Zuri said.


Aquascape also provides customers who choose them with aboveground plastic rain barrels which feature a planter on top and they also install rain gardens for those who want them in a low-lying portion of their yard or at the base of their downspout. Zuri cautioned, however, that plants chosen for rain gardens need to like "wet feet."

Aquascape representatives survey a client's property and offer recommendations. Since each yard is unique, the suggestions offered each homeowner are different, she said. But, in general, the smallest RainXchange system costs between $6,000 and $7,000 and the sky is the limit on the upper end, depending on how elaborate a homeowner wants to get.

Pat and Daniel Graceffa installed a RainXchange system at the bottom of one downspout in their front yard to deal with a flooding problem near their front porch.

"Every time it rained hard, we would see our mulch and plants floating down the driveway," Pat recalled.

"So we had Aquascape install a 500-gallon rainwater storage tank, or cistern, under our front yard to catch the water coming off that downspout," she said. "Above the tank we had them place three large granite pillars, surrounded by plantings, and we have the rainwater circulating over the pillars like a fountain."

It is both decorative and functional, she explained, because it cured the flooding problem, preserves the rainwater for watering plants and looks beautiful.

"And the past two years we have seen it save us money on our water bill," Pat said.

In addition, the Graceffas and their guests love to congregate on the front porch to listen to the gurgling water and watch the wildlife that is attracted to the area.

"It is a really nice welcome to our home," Pat said.

Next she plans to add a planter/rain barrel to the other side of her home and use it to capture rainwater and water plantings there.

Other neighbors, Steve and Bonnie Johnson, had been considering rain barrels so that they could water their gardens without adding to their water bill. But once they saw what others on their street were doing, they wanted something similar.

"Last year we had Aquascape install a pond-less waterfall that empties into a small basin and then recirculates the water into a 1,200-gallon underground storage tank. It takes water from three downspouts on our house," Bonnie said.

The extensive water feature takes up half of their yard, replacing grass and a few plantings that were there before, and it also includes a bubbling rock with water coming through a tube in the center of the rock. The basin it feeds into is an offshoot of the larger system, Bonnie said.

"We live at the top of a hill and lots of water runs through our yard. In fact, we had a ditch through one of our flower beds, created by the water running through it," she said.

So the Johnsons decided that they should capture some of the water running off their roof and contributing to the downhill rush, reasoning that they could later use it to water their gardens.

"We are very happy with it. We had an idea what we wanted, but what we got is so much better than anything we had imagined," Bonnie said.

Aquascape's Foundation has even begun installing the systems at schools in impoverished areas of the world for free. In the last two years the company has installed the RainXchange system at a school in Columbia and at another in Ghana.

So the system certainly has potential applications beyond homes, Zuri said. In fact, they also have a working 35,000-gallon system at the Boerner Botanical Gardens in Milwaukee.

On Saturday, Aug. 21, Aquascape will host a free tour of 15 to 20 RainXchange systems installed at private homes within The Lakes of Bliss Woods subdivision in Sugar Grove. It will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Representatives of the company will be available at selected homes to answer questions. For more information about the tour, visit

For information about Aquascape Inc., call (866) 877-6647 or check out