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Newport News auto shop owner helped change Virginia law on rainwater harvesting

Tyrone Jarvis stands with his rainwater harvesting system at Go Green Auto Care in Newport News.
Photo by Katherine Hafner
Tyrone Jarvis stands with his rainwater harvesting system at Go Green Auto Care in Newport News.

Go Green Auto Care has been at the forefront of a decade-long battle to allow private water sources to use treated rainwater.

About a decade ago, Tyrone Jarvis experienced a water leak that changed his life.

Jarvis, owner of Go Green Auto Care in Newport News, uncovered the leak after his business’ water bill skyrocketed to $5,000. He was discouraged by the cost and “that I wasted that much water,” and thought there must be a better way to manage the resource.

Then a water department employee made a throwaway comment in jest.

“He was like, ‘Yeah, what are you going to do, catch rain?’” Jarvis said. “And something just sparked in my head.”

That moment sent Jarvis on a yearslong quest to reuse the ample rainwater that falls on his business for flushing, washing cars and even drinking — and advocate for others to do the same.

He’s faced ups and downs, including a temporary shutdown of his auto shop, but helped craft state legislation to expand access to the sustainable practice.

Rainwater harvesting simply means capturing rainwater to reuse or redirect. It can range from a small backyard rain barrel to commercial-scale operations.

Back when he had the initial spark a decade ago, Jarvis started researching the topic and buying up components of his own system piece by piece.

One day when rain was on the forecast, he and his wife hooked it all up: a device that diverts the rain from outdoor gutters into a big indoor tank, then cleans it through several filters using UV and carbon filtration.

It was like a mad scientist experiment, Jarvis said.

“When the rain started falling, we watched that tank fill up so quick,” he said. “We plugged in the pump and turned on the water faucet and this crystal clear, beautiful water came out. It was something that we thought we had just stumbled upon like a treasure.”

The rainwater filtration system at Go Green Auto Care.
Photo by Katherine Hafner
The rainwater filtration system at Go Green Auto Care.

Jarvis thought it was straightforward: Reusing this water could not only cut down his water bill, but also help divert water from contributing to flooding or washing pollution into stormwater drains.

So he emailed Newport News city staff and council members, eager to demonstrate the potential of the new system.

“We were just so full of joy and wanted to share it with the world,” Jarvis said.

He didn’t anticipate the response. The city notified Jarvis his business was violating city code, and condemned the building. To reopen, Go Green had to reconnect to city water.

“The rainwater system at Go Green may be used to flush toilets but it cannot be used for the required sinks,” Newport News spokesperson Kimberly Bracy said in an email to WHRO. “It is also commendable to be environmentally conscious however, rainwater systems must be installed and used in an approved manner in order to protect public health.”

Jarvis reached out to local politicians asking for help navigating the issue, and heard back from one: then-Newport News Republican Del. David Yancey, who visited Go Green and started working with Jarvis to draft new legislation that would recognize rainwater as a legitimate water source.

In 2018, that bill unanimously passed the state legislature. It directed state officials to develop new rules on harvesting rainwater, particularly for potable use.

Jarvis was part of a workgroup that helped draft them over the past six years. The regulations now await signatures from the governor and state health secretary.

Cheryle Rodriguez with the Virginia Department of Health said in an email that in the past, the department offered guidelines on rainwater harvesting but did not regulate it. “This will change,” she said, specifically for private systems.

The proposed regulations outline new standards to meet for making rainwater drinkable. They will require permits for potable systems, but not when the water will be used for other uses like toilet flushing.

Rodriguez said the health department sees harvested rainwater as an opportunity on several fronts.

“This provides a particular benefit in parts of the state where no public water supply exists and available groundwater quality or quantity does not provide opportunity for another source of drinking water,” she wrote. “The use of harvested rainwater can reduce stress on Virginia aquifers already burdened by human demand.”

Jarvis hopes the state changes will help turn the tide in Newport News. He currently pays to connect to city water as required, but primarily uses his rainwater harvesting system.

He also aims to expand advocacy on rainwater harvesting through creating a local association or another business selling home systems.

“I’m really appreciative of automotive. But I would love to be part of normalizing and pushing rainwater harvesting to everyone who's open to making change.”

Go Green already proudly advertises its system on a sign visible to anyone driving by the business on Warwick Boulevard: “We’re powered by rain!”

Tyrone Jarvis stands in front of his rainwater harvesting sign at Go Green Auto Care in Newport News.
Photo by Katherine Hafner
Tyrone Jarvis stands in front of his rainwater harvesting sign at Go Green Auto Care in Newport News.

Katherine is WHRO’s climate and environment reporter. She came to WHRO from the Virginian-Pilot in 2022. Katherine is a California native who now lives in Norfolk and welcomes book recommendations, fun science facts and of course interesting environmental news.

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