Green Solutions

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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Photo Essay: Old and New Environments Coming Together in Pittsburgh

Blog and Photos by Christina Catanese

A few months ago, home in my native Pittsburgh, I paid a visit with my family to a place I went to many times growing up – Phipps Conservatory.  My childhood recollections of the place mainly revolve around the stunning plant displays, and the plethora of colors and types of flowers that seemed to grow out of every possible surface.  I was enchanted by the re-creation of various ecosystems, like the tropical plant room that thrived even in the bleak Pittsburgh winter.  But during this visit, I encountered a new aspect of the Conservatory that changed how I saw the place, and indeed, my hometown itself.

The Center for Sustainable Landscapes was opened last year as Phipps’ hub for education, research, and administration.  Striving to be “one of the greenest buildings on earth,” the Center utilizes innovative technologies to generate all its own energy, as well as treat and reuse all water captured on site.

Taking a stroll through the Center for Sustainable Landscapes’ grounds. The center building’s exterior incorporates repurposed wood salvaged from barns in Western Pennsylvania.

Taking a stroll through the Center for Sustainable Landscapes’ grounds. The center building’s exterior incorporates repurposed wood salvaged from barns in Western Pennsylvania.

While a beautiful architectural construction, I was most impressed with the stormwater management measures the Center took, from the green roof, to rain gardens, to the pervious pavement used on the walkways.

Click “read more…” below to read the rest of this photo essay!

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Drop It While It’s Hot!

By Christina Catanese

We had to break out the little inflatable pool this weekend – the multiple days of temperatures over 90 degrees just demanded it.  The cool water from the hose was refreshing, but when it came time to empty the pool, I couldn’t believe how much water it held and how long it took to drain it.  I captured some of it to water my droopy plants, but there was still more water than I could use.

Filling up the pool on a hot summer day

Filling up the pool on a hot summer day

During the summer, you might use four times as much water as you do during other months.  Your water bill likely reflects the extra water you need for your lawn and garden, and to keep yourself cool!  Your local waterways and systems are feeling the heat, too – the more water we use, the more has to be withdrawn and treated before it goes back to rivers and streams.

So what are some ways we can use less water in the summer?  Part of it is using the water effectively.

While up to 90 percent of the water used outdoors is for irrigation, having a beautiful landscape doesn’t have to mean using a lot of water.  Watering by hand is most efficient, but lots of us have automatically timed irrigation systems for convenience.  It turns out that homes with automatically timed irrigation systems use about 50 percent more water outdoors than those without. Your system can waste even more if it’s programmed incorrectly, a sprinkler head is pointed in the wrong direction, or you have a leak.  Lots of water can be lost through evaporation if you water at the wrong time of the day, and leaky hoses, dripping faucets, and improper landscaping can keep your garden from looking its best.  Here are some tips from WaterSense for watering wisely this summer.

Another way to use less water outside is to capture it yourself.  By using a rain barrel, you can capture free rainwater to use when you need it most to water your lawn and garden (but not for drinking or your kiddie pool).  Rain barrels can be purchased at your local hardware or garden supply store.  Better yet, many local government programs offer them at reduced prices.  Check out our short video and this longer video from GreenTreks for more on installing your own rain barrel.

You can even design your landscape to be water efficient.  Some plants are thirstier than others, so choose plants that are defined as low water use or drought tolerant for your area. These plant species will be able to survive in your climate with minimal, if any, need for supplemental watering.  See these simple tips for water-efficient landscaping for more ideas on lowering water use in your yard.  Visit this link to explore lists of native plants available for by state, and this one to see some Mid Atlantic resources.

So tell us: how are you dropping your water use this summer?

 

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Lowdown on Why Water Use is Down in DC

By Ken Pantuck

It turns out that when it comes to water conservation, what goes up sometimes does come down.  And what each of us does in our homes really does have an impact.

Water consumption in the District of Columbia is down from an average of 125 million gallons per day in 2004 to 100 million gallons today, according to recent reports from DC Water.   Similarly, the amount of wastewater going to Washington’s Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant has declined over the past decade.

A shot of DC’s urban water resources Photo courtesy of Flickr photographer ad454 from EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project

A shot of DC’s urban water resources. Photo courtesy of Flickr photographer ad454 from EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project

How did this reduction occur?  It seems to be a combination of factors.  Homeowners have decided to use water-saving appliances in new homes and to replace water consumptive fixtures.  DC Water has pushed an effective and ongoing program to repair and replace aging and deteriorated sewer segments.  Proactive steps have been taken to eliminate other sources of water in the system, like tidal intrusions. And rainfall and ground water levels have been lower than normal.

Although earth is often referred to as the “water planet” with about 70% of its surface covered by water, less than 1% of the water is available for human use.  Water supplies are finite, and the residents and wastewater utility in DC are helping to protect this critical and precious resource where they live.  The story of water use in the district shows that the collective action of individuals can make a big difference to ensure there is enough clean water for generations to come.

The water conservation message is simple and something that any municipality, large or small, can easily promote.  Encouraging residents to use less water is low cost and can produce significant savings.  For example, the 25 million gallons of water savings in DC also results in a savings of $2,500 per day in processing costs at the Blue Plains Treatment Plant.  Even more important, lower rates of water use means that less water is going through a wastewater system, which can relieve the pressure on treatment plants during large storm events.  In a smaller plant, this could mean the difference between expanding the plant or not.

What can you do to help reduce water use where you live?  One thing is to look for WaterSense-labeled water appliances for your home.  WaterSense is an EPA partnership program that seeks to protect the future of our nation’s water supply by offering people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products, homes, and services.  Get lots of tips for how you can save water in your home here.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Making a Difference – One Rain Garden at a Time

By Sue McDowell

The Rain Gardens for the Bays Campaign has gone local!

The Borough of Ambler, Pennsylvania, in collaboration with the Ambler Environmental Advisory Council, is helping to install rain gardens to improve local water quality in the Wissahickon Creek watershed, a tributary to the Schuylkill River, which leads to the Delaware Bay.

Through local volunteers and partnerships with state and local governments, Ambler is well on the way to its goal of 100 rain gardens over the next 10 years.

A rain garden is a garden designed as a shallow depression to collect water that runs off from your roof, driveway and other paved areas. It’s a sustainable and economic way of dealing with rainfall as nature intended.

Check out this video about Ambler’s ambitions!

The Rain Gardens for the Bays Campaign is greening our neighborhoods and protecting our streams by dotting the landscape with thousands of demonstration rain gardens in local watersheds. Town Halls, libraries, schools and other public institutions are showcasing this natural way to manage stormwater on the property that generates it.

The campaign is a partnership with EPA’s three mid-Atlantic National Estuary Programs (Delaware Bay, Delaware Inland Bays and Maryland Coastal Bays), the state of Delaware, the University of Delaware and other organizations.  One of our prime goals is encouraging residents and other property owners to install their own rain gardens.  You, too, can help your local watershed and our bays and rivers, one garden at a time.

For more information about Rain Gardens for the Bays Visit: http://www.raingardensforthebays.org/

About the author: Susan McDowell joined the EPA family in 1990.  Her work on community-based sustainability throughout her career includes the award-winning Green Communities program which has traveled across the United States and internationally.  She brings her ‘ecological’ perspective to her work including Pennsylvania’s nonpoint source pollution program the mid-Atlantic National Estuaries, and the G3 Academy (Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns).

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Soak it Up! Philadelphia Designs Showcase Rain as a Resource

By Ken Hendrickson

Sitting in the auditorium at the Academy of Natural Sciences and watching the presentations of the nine finalists in the Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition, you could feel the excitement in the air.  The pecha kucha presentation format gave the evening a rhythm and cadence, but the design teams gave it substance.  All of the nine finalist teams had creative ideas and I didn’t envy the judges’ position of having to pick the final three winning teams – but in the end, they did.  Throughout the evening as I viewed the design boards, talked to the designers, and watched the presentations, I had the same three thoughts.

My view from the audience at the Soak It Up! Awards

My view from the audience at the Soak It Up! Awards

First, stormwater is exciting, or perhaps more accurately, green infrastructure design solutions to urban stormwater are exciting.  The design solutions treated stormwater as a resource and made it a visible and important part of each site and, by extension, the city.  What is exciting is that not only did these teams provide real, workable, and affordable solutions to addressing one of our most pressing water quality concerns, these designs would also make the city a better place to live and work.

My second thought had to do with collaboration.  I was impressed at the level to which these teams had embraced the collaborative approach to design.  While the competition did specify that teams needed to include a civil engineer, an architect, and a landscape architect to be eligible, the finalists seemed to take this integrated and collaborative design approach a step further.  I couldn’t help but wonder about the process that lead to these designs.  What future partnerships, collaborations, and design solutions might be born as a result of this competition?

Which brings me to my final thought about the Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition: that these designs are not just attractive imagery and impressive reports.  They represent a shift in the way we view urban stormwater and the solutions we design to control it.  Each of these designs has a story and they are stories that everyone with an interest in clean water and livable communities deserves to hear.

In an effort to help make these stories available to all, the G3 Academy (Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns) is partnering with the Community Design Collaborative to host a webcast on April 4th featuring the design competition winners.  The webcast is free and open to anyone.  For more information and to register for the webcast, please visit this link.

Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! is a joint effort of the Community Design Collaborative, the Philadelphia Water Department, and EPA to inspire innovation in green stormwater infrastructure.  This design competition was the latest product of the partnership between EPA and the City of Philadelphia to advance green infrastructure for urban wet weather pollution control.  For additional resources on green infrastructure, visit the EPA green infrastructure website.

How does stormwater affect your community, and how would green infrastructure help?  Do the designs from the Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition inspire ideas for where you live?

About the Author: Ken Hendrickson has worked at the EPA since 2010 and is the Green Infrastructure staff lead in the Office of State and Watershed Partnerships.  Ken has a background in landscape architecture, geology, and watershed management.  He enjoys working to empower communities to improve their environment and finding solutions that create more resilient social, environmental, and economic systems. When not in the office, Ken enjoys challenging and rewarding outdoor activities and creative indoor hobbies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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It’s All in the Mindset

By Kelly Shenk

At a recent farm tour I was on, a dairy farmer in Augusta County, Virginia said:  “Pollution isn’t related to size, it’s related to mindset.”  And the mindset of many farmers is one of innovation, creativity, and a thirst to find better ways to keep their farms profitable and local waters clean for generations to come.

Farmers compare notes at the Chesapeake Bay Agriculture Networking Forum

Farmers compare notes at the Chesapeake Bay Agriculture Networking Forum

The farm tour was part of the recent Chesapeake Bay Agriculture Networking Forum sponsored by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  It’s my favorite meeting of the year.  It’s a chance for all the grantees who receive funding from the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund to share their successes and lessons learned from their projects to restore polluted waters.  The room was filled with over 100 of the most creative thinkers from State agricultural agencies, conservation districts, non-governmental organizations, farming groups, USDA and EPA — all with a common interest in preserving our agricultural heritage, keeping farmers farming, and having clean local and Bay waters.  We all came to the meeting with the mindset that we can have it all through creativity, innovation, and strong partnerships that help us leverage funding to get the job done.

From all the energized discussions with the grantees and farmers, it was very clear to me that farmers are true innovators and problem solvers.  They have a can-do mindset in figuring out how they can run their business efficiently in a way that is good for clean water and for long-term profitability.  As this grant program has matured, so has our approach.  We are finding that there is no better way to sell farmers on ways to reduce pollution than to have fellow farmers and trusted field experts showing how innovative solutions such as manure injectors, poultry litter-to-energy technologies, and even the tried-and-true practices such as keeping cows out of the streams can keep them viable for generations to come.  I’m confident that this mindset will catch on and that we can achieve our common goals of thriving agriculture and clean waters.

About the Author: Kelly Shenk is the Agricultural Advisor for EPA Region 3.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Water Savings on Tap for Fix a Leak Week 2013

By Kimberly Scharl

Fix a Week 2013 bannerMarch 18-24, 2013 is the EPA WaterSense program’s 5th annual Fix a Leak Week, a time when we remind you to check your household plumbing for leaks.  American households waste more than 1 trillion gallons of clean drinking water each year due to leaky pipes, toilets, showerheads and other fixtures. But fixing leaks can be easy and inexpensive, and can save you nearly 10 percent on utility bills!   Need some ideas to mark the occasion of Fix a Leak Week?   We’ve got some for you…

Save water in your own home!

Being handy around the house doesn’t have to be difficult. Common types of leaks found in the home are worn toilet flappers, dripping faucets, and other leaking valves.  These types of leaks are often easy to fix.  You might only need a few tools and hardware, and these fixes can pay for themselves in water savings.  Check out this video by Spartanburg Water on detecting a leaky toilet.

Check it out!

There are tons of events happening all over the country to celebrate Fix a Leak Week!  Here are two in the Mid-Atlantic Region:

Charlottesville, Virginia is hosting the “Fix a Leak Family 5k”, an event where runners and non-runners alike can learn about water conservation.  Besides the trail run itself, the event will feature local vendors and non-profits sharing information on water and energy savings.  This event is also featuring face painting, a DJ, and a nature trail making it fun for the whole family!

The West Virginia Public Service Commission in Charleston will be visiting local elementary schools to discuss the importance of water conservation with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. Hands-on demonstrations will illustrate scarcity of potable water, areas of the country where shortages of water are a problem, and how those shortages affect individuals in other regions of the country.

Do you know of other events happening near you next week?  Tell us about them in the comments!

Come Chat with Us!!!

To kick off Fix a Leak Week, WaterSense is holding its 2nd Annual Fix a Leak Week Twitter chat on Monday March 18th from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Eastern.  Log into your Twitter account during that time and use the hashtag #fixaleak to tweet messages about your plans to make a difference during Fix a Leak Week!

Flo, our spokesgallon, will be joining in too!  Throughout the Twitter chat, we’ll be posting pictures of Flo as she travels around the Mid-Atlantic Region sharing water saving tips.  Here’s a sneak peak of Flo, can you guess where she is?

Our Spokesgallon Flo with the Liberty Bell

So join in the conversation!  Make sure to follow @EPARegion3 to catch all Flo’s journeys in our region, and follow @EPAwatersense and the #fixaleak hashtag to get more tips during the chat.

Take the Pledge!

Join us and thousands of your friends and neighbors in taking simple actions to save water.  Take the “I’m for Water” pledge, and make a resolution this year to save this precious resource.

For more information on Fix a Leak Week and the WaterSense program, go to www.epa.gov/watersense.  You can also follow WaterSense on Facebook and Twitter!  Make 2013 about water and take the pledge today!

Tell us how you are saving water this Fix a Leak Week in the comments!

About the Author: Kimberly Scharl has worked at the Environmental Protection Agency since 2010, after moving to Pennsylvania from Mississippi.  She is a financial analyst and project officer for the Water Protection Division, Office of Infrastructure and Assistance.  She is also the Regional Liason for the WaterSense Program.  Kim enjoys bowling and spending time with her family.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Good Beer? It’s in the Water

By Christina Catanese

If you’re a beer drinker, when you crack open a cold bottle or sip a freshly poured draft beer, the first thing you think about probably isn’t the quality of the water that was used to create your brew.  You probably notice the color, the aroma, the head, the flavor, the hops, the malt…but what of the water?

Photo Courtesy of the CDC

Photo Courtesy of the CDC

When I was in grad school, I worked at a microbrewery for some extra cash, and it changed what I thought I knew about beer.  I became familiar with the process of making beer: from malting, to mashing, to lautering, to boiling, to fermenting, to conditioning, and to filtering.  At each point in the process, water plays a key role, and it can make up over 95% of the finished product poured into your pint.

I had a lot of discussions with our brewer about how much the source water quality affects the brewing process and product.  There’s the obvious impact of the flavor of the water used in the brewing process, but the chemistry of the water can alter the process itself.

He described how yeast convert sugars into alcohol to ferment the beer, and how changes in water chemistry impact the activity of the yeast.  The chlorine that is added to most municipal drinking water to eliminate harmful bacteria can impact the flavor and aroma of beer, but the presence of bacteria can spoil a batch of beer.

I learned that the pH of the water also affects the sugar composition, which in turn affects how strong the beer will be.  Like hoppy beers?  Harder water brings out the hops’ flavor.  Softer water can result in milder flavored beers, so some brewers add water hardeners during the brewing process to amp up the hops and flavor.

Something as simple as a change in the treatment process at the local drinking water plant can have an impact.  So, too, can a new upstream pollution source or change in the health of the source water body.

You might wonder why breweries don’t just purify their water to start with some H2O that is as neutral as possible to start with.  But the thing is, what’s in the water is what makes the process work, and what makes gives each beer a unique regional character.  Overly purifying water through filtering or other methods takes everything out of the water, even the things a brewer wants to be there.

The brewery I worked at also strived to be a sustainable operation – the spent grains from the brewing process were picked up by a farmer to be used for livestock feed.  A few times, our brewer even asked me if he could borrow my hydrology and soils text books so he could have a better knowledge of how the health of the environment would affect the beer he made.

Throughout the history of beer making, brewers have been careful to site their breweries in the places with the highest quality water, and the health of a brewery’s home watershed is of prime importance to their brewers.

To recognize the connection of good beer with good water, the Schuylkill Action Network has partnered with brewers in the watershed to develop a special brew that pays tribute to its source water.

 

 

Have you ever thought about how water quality affects your happy hour?  What other unexpected ways does water impact our lives?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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In Philly, Plain Rain Barrels are SO Last Season

By Nancy Grundahl

If you were Michelangelo, what would your rain barrel look like? It certainly wouldn’t be plain. No, it would convey beauty, reflect creativity, stand out from the crowd, cause walkersby to catch their breath in amazement.

One of the designs (“Fish Flow”) that you can vote for in the Philadelphia Water Department's Rain Barrel Art Contest

One of the designs (“Fish Flow”) that you can vote for in the Philadelphia Water Department's Rain Barrel Art Contest

To raise awareness of the benefits of rain barrels, the City of Philadelphia is holding a rain barrel art contest, but instead of Michelangelo, the artists are local students. Students between the ages of 11 and 21 from the Laura W. Waring School and YESPHilly worked with artists from the Mural Arts Program and educators from Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center and the Philadelphia Water Department to create beautiful original artwork for decorating rain barrels. How will it work? The designs will be printed on shrink wrap that will then be wrapped around rain barrels distributed by the Water Department.

The contest has been narrowed down to 8 finalists and they’d like you to vote for your fav. The contest ends on February 13, so hurry!

Rain barrels are good ideas no matter where you live.  They help capture rain water that can be reused around the home. And they help prevent that water from rushing from your downspouts and into storm sewers, picking up pollution that winds up in your favorite streams and rivers.

Feel creative?  Tell us your ideas for beautifying rain barrels at your home!

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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