Richard Heinichen has been a fan of rainwater ever since he and his wife Suzy first moved to Dripping Springs and discovered that the hard, heavily calcified well water made their hair stick out like fright wigs and their blue jeans as stiff as mannequin bottoms. Rainwater, having been purified by the giant solar still we call the atmosphere, contains essentially no minerals. Richard installed a rainwater collection system at his home and his neighbors became jealous of his super-soft water. Soon he was helping people put in their own tanks and gutters.
As more people moved to the Dripping Springs area, wells were getting deeper and deeper, and more and more expensive, and why would anybody dig an expensive well just to shower in stinky, calcified water? Richard’s hobby developed into a full fledged business building hundreds of rainwater systems, Tank Town World Headquarters. He would haul jugs of purified rainwater to the job sites for his crew to drink. One day in 1999 the jugs went dry, but nobody was willing to drink tap water. They were all spoiled to the clean taste of rainwater. That’s when the light bulb went on in Richard’s entrepreneurial head: Bottled rainwater would sell.
His plan was knocked down by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Rainwater, according to TCEQ, was not an approved source of drinking water. You could drink water from a well, a lake, a spring, or even a glacier, but getting it straight from the sky was not allowed. Rain, of course, has been the original source of the water in those other locations for about four and a half billion years. Richard, described by his wife as pathologically optimistic, is not the kind of person who is easily deterred by a government bureaucracy. He enrolled in a two year online course to learn all about water infrastructure, sewage, and the biology of water contamination. When he graduated he was a certified to operate a public water supply. Like the proverbial squeaky wheel, his persistence prevailed and TCEQ relented. Then he started in on the Health Department.
After leaping all the hurdles set in his path by TCEQ and the Health Department, Richard built a bottling plant for Cloud Juice. The building has a 20,000 square foot roof from which he can catch 10,000 gallons of water from a one inch rain. The gutters divert the rain into tanks (lined with food grade stainless steel) that can hold 250,000 gallons. The water is filtered by reverse osmosis to .008 microns. An E. coli bacterium is 60 times bigger than the pores in that filter. Not even viruses can get through.
As I write these words I am sipping on a chilled bottle of Richard’s Happy Water, the carbonated version of Cloud Juice. It’s like Perrier, only smoother and gentler. Currently Richard is selling about 400 cases a week of Happy Water and Cloud Juice, in glass bottles and phthalate free plastic bottles. He could sell more, but he is already working as hard as he wants. Although Richard and his wife will deliver to certain high dollar restaurants in the Austin area such as Hudson’s on the Bend or Asti Trattoria, if you want Happy Water or Cloud Juice outside of Austin you are going to have to go to Dripping Springs and get it yourself. Matthew McConaughey gets special treatment and has five gallon jugs of Cloud Juice shipped to exotic locations wherever he make movies.
Richard shows me a bottle of tap water from an anonymous “weird” city in central Texas. The bottle has been sitting on his desk for several years. He shakes the bottle and it becomes a snow globe with all the flakes of minerals that have precipitated out of solution. Those are the minerals that taste bad and make scum on your shower walls. Those are also the minerals that rainwater does not contain. Richard didn’t expect this benefit, but he has had many chemotherapy patients tell him that rainwater is the only water they can drink. Everything else is just too harsh. Although he stops short of making health claims for his water, he quotes the adage “The Solution to Pollution is Dilution,” and maintains that his water is the purest and most dilute water you can drink. Suzy counters that the solution to pollution is no pollution. Good point, Suzy.
Richard is planning to start brewing beer with his rainwater. He already has another snappy slogan picked out. “It’s Not The Best Beer, But It’ll Do.”
Richard with a bottle of Happy Water