Capturing Rain and the Imagination

By Shawn M. Garvin

It’s fitting and perhaps perfect timing for EPA’s mid-Atlantic Regional Office to be opening up a new educational exhibit in our Public Information Center titled, “The Art and Science of Rain Barrels.”   Record-setting amounts of rainfall this past June in Philadelphia and Wilmington serve as a reminder of the challenges communities face in solving wet weather problems such as flooding, sewer overflows and run-off of pollutants and debris into urban creeks, streams and rivers.

No pun intended, but for most of us, wet weather problems ‘hit home’ when our basements flood…or when our commutes to work and school are disrupted and delayed, and when outdoor events and recreational activities get postponed or cancelled.   All the more reason why EPA, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Energy Coordinating Agency and the nonprofit Mt. Airy Art Garage teamed up to create this current EPA exhibit.

One of the rain barrels on display at the EPA exhibit

One of the rain barrels on display at the EPA exhibit

We want to foster greater awareness of the health, environmental, and economic benefits that can be gained by better managing potentially harmful rainwater runoff.  The Art and Science of Rain Barrels is one way our organizations are engaging Philadelphia residents in the City’s Green City, Clean Waters plan to transform many of Philadelphia’s traditional hardened surfaces to green areas, ultimately making local waters cleaner, and communities healthier, vibrant and more attractive places to live and work.

It’s been a little over a year since EPA and the City of Philadelphia embarked on this new Green City, Clean Waters partnership, and momentum and support for the plan’s goals continue to grow.  It’s exciting to see community-based organizations, regular citizens, and students jumping in to make a difference.  The City of Philadelphia is encouraging its residents to install rain barrels to reduce stormwater runoff.   A rain barrel is a structure that collects and stores stormwater runoff from rooftops. The collected rain water can be used for irrigation to water lawns, gardens, and street trees.   Although these systems store only a small volume of stormwater, collectively, they can be effective at preventing large volumes of runoff from entering the sewer system, potentially causing overflows and impairing local waterways.

That’s the message we want to drive home through our exhibit.  The display features two mock city row-homes, one which uses a traditional aluminum gutter and down spout to convey rainwater from the roof to the ground; the other which uses a rain barrel connected to the down spout to capture and store rainwater for beneficial use.

We’re grateful to our partners for loaning us other rain barrels that are on display, several of which are hand-painted or artfully designed by students and seniors from Philadelphia.  These unique rain barrels illustrate that these structures can be useful and appealing.

I encourage you to check out EPA’s Public Information Center rain barrel exhibit, located at our Mid-Atlantic Regional Office, 1650 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103, M-F, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

About the Author: Shawn M. Garvin is EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator responsible for ensuring the protection of human health and the environment in Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.