The Egypt-Rowley River on the Massachusetts coast is drying up from overuse by towns in the region. The declining flows are killing fish and shrinking habitat for migratory birds. Citizens in Ipswich  (pop. 13,000) are at risk because the Egypt-Rowley supplies their drinking water. But townspeople are taking steps to save the river, and their water conservation efforts extend from their homes to the local car wash.

It is a busy Sunday morning at the Ipswich Car Wash. With so much water sprayed from dozens of nozzles at the automated facility you'd never dream that the town has a water shortage. But Joanne Ventola, who came by to get the grime off her Honda CR-V, knows the issues. "It's always a problem this time of year because of the water ban. You can't do any outdoor watering or outdoor washing of your own car."

The mid-size car is now spotless thanks to Ken Ouellette who opened the car wash last year next to his auto repair and inspection shop. "I've been in this location for 25 years, and I've always wanted to build a car wash. It has been a dream of my life."

Since Ipswich restricts water withdrawals from the Egypt-Rowley, Ouellette turned to rainwater for his business. As far as he knows his operation is the first, and only, rainwater car wash in the country.

On rainy days water runs from the roof, down gutters, off the asphalt and down drains in the pavement. Under ground is a 190,000-liter cistern collection system, consisting of inverted and interconnected culverts.

The self-serve car wash runs smoothly. First the bottom and sides of the car are cleaned. Then the equipment sizes up the vehicle and washes it. Dirty and soapy water drains underground and moves to 6,000-liter concrete tanks where sand, grease, oil and the bad smell are taken out. The treated water is either pumped back to clean the bottom of the car or released into the sewer.

Ouellette says surplus collected rainwater also helps with the landscaping. "We have 211 sprinkler heads just irrigating the lawn, the flowers and everything, every single night, which puts the rainwater back into the wetlands."

Ouellette says what is good for the pocketbook is also good for the planet. Certainly that is how Doug Story feels as he exits the Ipswich Car Wash in a gleaming black Lexus, "They do a good job, and [just] as important they recycle water so we are not using a lot of the resources of the town for this carwash."