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Water brothers

Portland Purple Water partnership spreads tools, gospel of rainwater management
by: Jaime Valdez Portland Purple Water founder Jason Garvey and Scott Yelton show off the aquaponics barrels at their rainwater conservation-based business.

Green stalks of vegetation reach up from an array of blue, gravel- and lava-filled plastic barrels toward glowing lights. The soothing sound of gurgling water - circulating from goldfish tanks through plastic pipes - fills the non-descript, block-walled room.

A visitor innocently asks Jason Garvey how much soil there is beneath those rocks to nourish the clearly thriving tomato, broccoli, celery and bok choy plants.

Garvey's baseline intense gaze slowly softens into a satisfied grin.

'There is no soil,' he says, delighted by the question as well as the implications of his answer. 'When you break it down, it's all about delivering the needs of plants. The plant requires light, controlled temperature, carbon dioxide, water and air. Beyond that, it needs nutrients. If we provide these things for the plant, it will thrive.'

In other words, exposing plants to fish-infused, nutrient-rich water along with light and warmth - a process known as 'aquaponics' - makes soil essentially irrelevant.

'It snowed the other day, and I have the freshest vegetables in town!' Garvey says. 'In nothing but gravel.'

The lesson is one of many rainwater-centric philosophies Garvey and his business partner, Scott Yelton, espouse at Portland Purple Water, the business they started nearly four years ago out of Garvey's house. PPW moved into its showroom at 11325 S.W. Canyon Road, just off the Highway 217 off ramp, about a year and a half ago.

Taking its name from industry jargon for untreated, but generally clean, non-potable water, Portland Purple Water is focused on the management and conservation of rain and naturally occurring water sources. In a broader sense, it's as much a 21st century green laboratory and think tank as a downtown retail merchant.

Over a barrel

From the mundane functionality of roof gutter guards and garden irrigation systems to the country retro-chic of cedar-lined rain barrels and esoteric concept of aquaponics, PPW covers any and all conceivable rainwater harvesting needs.

'Our showroom demonstrates the different ways people use water - and how they could use water,' Garvey says.

Garvey, Yelton and their five employees also offer installations, demonstrations and educational workshops centered on rainwater conservation and aquaponics (see accompanying story).

'People call us for lots of different reasons,' Garvey adds. 'We're a gutter company - but it doesn't stop there. We assist in stormwater mitigation, and supplies for gardens and landscaping.'

Yes, the partners know what many are thinking: 'Why on earth does my rainwater need harvesting, particularly in an area known for plentiful, minimally treated municipal water sources?'

Don't get Garvey started.

The Arizona native - for whom the term 'quietly intense' may have been coined - understands the difficulty in espousing a practice whose immediate benefit may seem unclear. However, he's adamant it's only a matter of time before the consciousness of resource conservation - in the Pacific Northwest and nationwide - moves from the fashionable to an imperative.

'We have the benefit of a much broader understanding,' he says of the region's sustainable outlook. 'That idea that we are unique and isolated should be gone.'

The area's soggy nature only adds relevance to Portland Purple Water's mission, he adds.

'The difference is we get greater value from rainwater harvesting here.'

Walking the walk

Whether from one of PPW's 55-gallon, valve-equipped cedar rain barrels (basic 55-gallons starting at $79 or the Garvey-designed cedar-lined models at $359) or a 10,000-gallon cistern, harvested rainwater can be used to water the garden, wash the car, flush toilets, wash clothes and water one's pets.

If you're not easily moved by philosophy and long-range supply-and-demand hypotheses, Garvey is happy to talk practicality and rainfall.

The idea of conservation, he says, 'is to use only what you need (rather than) what you have. You can say, 'Well, we have so much of it.' Instead, why don't we catch it where it falls instead of asking to get (water) from somewhere else.'

Garvey touts the products and systems PPW sell as yielding rainwater-harvesting benefits including:

  • Conserving municipal water supplies;

  • Reducing the energy and chemicals needed to sanitize and pump water via municipal and private well systems;

  • Limiting the draw from underground sources;

  • Allowing rainwater to replenish groundwater instead of being carried away; and

  • Halting negative effects stormwater can bring, such as erosion, water-temperature fluctuations and pollution in streams.
  • To drive home their philosophy, Garvey and Yelton encourage participation in the 2012 Walk for Water and Fun Run as part of World Water Day on Saturday, March 24, at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Southeast Portland. Simulating a typical water-gathering experience for women and children in sub-Saharan Africa, the walk involves carrying 5 gallons of water on a 3.1-mile route around the Willamette River. Registration for the event starts at 8:30 a.m.

    Given that the average American uses more than 100 gallons per day of water, Garvey observes it would 'take 20 trips to the river, walking 60 miles a day, to get those 100 gallons.'

    Rolling with the flow

    Garvey and Yelton, who resides in Southeast Portland, got to know each other when Garvey did some work involving cedar barrels and drip irrigation at Yelton's mother-in-law's house. A Missoula, Mont., native, Yelton left a lucrative advertising/marketing career with Wieden-Kennedy to study sustainability education at Portland State University

    He'd been laid off from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance when he crossed paths with Garvey.

    'After talking with her about the business and how he was looking for good hires, she said (Garvey) should meet with me,' Yelston recalls. 'We then sat down for a four-hour conversation and hit it off. Jason started the business, and I just jumped on. Though I didn't have any background in water, per se, the educational and sustainability element of the business was a perfect match for me. Plus, much of my career has been in marketing/advertising, so I brought a lot of strategic messaging to PPW.'

    Garvey's background is in food- and beverage sales-related roles in Santa Fe, N.M., and his native Arizona. Some time after moving to Beaverton 12 years ago, however, he saw a new path.

    'I left the food industry,' he says. 'I had an epiphany: All my work in the food industry was opposed to my core values.'

    As a salesman for Gutter Guard products, designed to keep leaves and debris off roof gutters, he realized the rain-diversion devices were a 'tool for a much bigger system.'

    'We have some amazing solutions here,' he says. 'We don't want to cajole anybody into this. We just want to try to open their minds to it.'

    Yelton says after paying their share of dues in the corporate and sales worlds, he and his partner are committed to their vision for the long haul.

    'We know we're gonna hand this business down to our kids, whether they want us to or not,' he quips. 'And that's a great feeling.'