Solar Showers and Shmini Atzeret
by Beth Hammerman
In recognition of Shemini Atzeret, the holiday we just celebrated, we share with you the various ways in which Ramah Outdoor Adventure works on conserving its precious water resource. This holiday, which follows the Jewish festival of Sukkot, marks the beginning of the rainy season after the harvest in Israel. The prayer for rain, Tefilat Geshem, is the only ritual that is unique to Shemini Atzeret. After the prayer for rain is recited, the phrase Masheev HaRuach U-Moreed HaGeshem (“He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall”) is inserted into the Amidah prayer until Passover. This is the season of divine judgment for the future year’s rainfall, the time when we pray that God’s goodwill may afford us the appropriate amount.
Donald Skupsky, Chairman of the Ramah in the Rockies Board, and his son Ben, developed camps most significant water related initiative. They spent years researching an effective way to bring hot water to our shower house that would be both economical and practical. After years of research, they designed and implemented a passive solar system made up of two hot boxes housing two bladders that are continuously being filled from the creek water that is piped in. Each bladder holds 500 gallons of water and measures 7ft. X 9ft. X 16 in. high. The black color of the bladder absorbs more of the sun’s rays and heats the water inside more quickly. By having a large surface area and shallow depth, the water inside the bladder is able to heat more quickly than traditional upright storage tanks.
The two bladders are plumbed in series, so that heated water from one bladder serves as input to the second, increasing water temperature. The bladders are housed in separate hot boxes, each covered with polycarbonate, which is often used for greenhouses and lets 90% of sunlight pass through. The top of each box is angled to catch the maximum amount of sun in the spring and summer months. Each box is lined with reflective insulation to direct sunlight inward and further heat the bladders. Even if the sun does not shine for a few days, storing water above ground significantly improves hot water availability over traditional water heating systems.
The advantages to this system are many. It significantly reduces the monthly water heating cost from the shower house. On Friday alone, over 200 showers occur. The system is designed to use up to 1,500 gallons of hot water in that 3-hour period. It is very eco friendly since there are practically no moving parts, which means that the system does not use any fossil fuels or electricity to operate. Further, this has been a great learning experience for our campers and staff.
There are many other initiatives the camp has implemented regarding water usage. Campers are encouraged not to flush the toilet after each use so the tank does not have to empty out and fill up unnecessarily after each use. Half of the sinks in the new shower house have facets with 15 second timed water release. This reminds campers when cleaning their teeth and washing up of the need to be conscious of their water usage. The showerheads have a reduced water stream, further saving on water usage. Excess water from the dining room table pitchers is reused in the gardens and greenhouse. There is a poster board outside the dining room indicating each day how much water is being used in the different areas of the camp. This public display has sparked discussion among campers and staff and the hope is that water consumption will decrease as a result.
Mickey Vizner, the camp’s environmental and sustainability project manager, is always thinking of new initiatives to conserve water. The latest is thru the use of Hydroponics. This is where plants are grown without the use of soil. The nutrients that plants normally derive from the soil are simply dissolved into water instead, and depending on the type of hydroponic system used, the plant’s roots are suspended in, flooded with or misted with the nutrient solution so that the plant can derive the elements it needs for growth. ROA is testing this concept with two camp-made vertical “water trees,” each able to hold 14 plants and camp-made nutrients (egg shells and banana peels soaked in water with some added purchased minerals).
There are significant environmental benefits to hydroponics use. Such a system requires significantly less water than soil-based plants because it recycles and reuses water and nutrient solutions, as it is continually pumped through the plant roots. Hydroponics requires little or no pesticides and much less nutrients. This represents not only a cost savings but also benefits the environment in that no chemicals or nutrition pollution are being released into the air. As the population increases and arable land available for crop production declines, hydroponics will allow us to produce crops in alternative places. Hydroponically grown foods not only taste better and are more nutritional, but you can change the properties of your food and monitor what goes into it.
Lastly, one of Mickey’s dreams is to build a water powered ner tamid (eternal light). He hopes to design a water wheel that will be turned by the flow of the creek water to create electricity to power the light. He sees this as a force of nature coming from G-d, which serves as a reminder that G-d is forever eternal.