rain barrels

The Proof is in the Peppers

by Jennie Saxe

Rain barrel water is great for backyard gardens and saves money, too!

Rain barrel water is great for backyard gardens and saves money, too!

A few months back, I blogged about installing my first rain barrels. With the hot summer nearly in the rear-view mirror, I can report that rain barrels work…and they save money, too!

How do I know that the rain barrels work? Well, the proof is in the peppers. And pansies. And all of the other plants that not just survived, but thrived, on the rain water collected in the barrels. By this point of the summer, I usually have garden beds full of crunchy, brown plants. The rain water has kept my flowers blooming and vegetables growing happily for over 3 months.

I saved some money, too! I water my vegetable garden and flowers about 4 times a week, using about 4 watering cans of rain water each time.  At 2 gallons per can, I avoided using nearly 450 gallons of tap water for my watering needs – enough to fill almost 10 bathtubs. And at about 9 cents per gallon for tap water, that’s a savings of around $40!   pansies

I’ll keep using my rain barrels throughout the fall, to water fall plantings. In the winter, I’ll drain the barrels to avoid any damage. Then next spring, I’ll grab some compost, hook up my rain barrels, and get my garden growing!

For more on sustainable lawn and garden care year-round, check out these tips.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs.

 

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Rain Barrels of Savings

by Jennie Saxe

As I spent a recent weekend doing springtime yard work, I noticed that the side yard of my house seems to have washed away over the past few years. After a short investigation, I realized that three downspouts on my home pointed at this exact location. I wondered…could I use green infrastructure to help slow the flow of rainwater?

I decided to install a rain barrel to direct some of the rain water to storage instead of letting it flow as run-off across the ground. Reducing the amount of run-off from my roof will keep the soil from washing away. As an added benefit, the stored rain water will be perfect for watering our flowers and vegetable garden.

Full disclosure: DIY is not my strong suit. Even though it’s fairly simple to build your own rain barrel, I purchased mine. All that was left was to follow the directions for connecting it to a downspout.  Here’s the finished product:

A recent, brief rain shower filled about one-third of this rain barrel.

A recent, brief rain shower filled about one-third of this rain barrel.

The rain barrel was installed in a couple of hours, but I did make some rookie mistakes. If you’re thinking about installing your first rain barrel, here are some helpful hints:

  • Location: I knew which downspout to connect to, but I also had to be sure I was able to connect a hose. I also had to consider where excess water would drain once the barrel was filled. Excess water can be directed to overflow, to another rain barrel, or to a rain garden.
  • Safety: A 60-gallon rain barrel will weigh 500 pounds when full, so it’s a good idea to make sure that little ones won’t be tempted to play around it. I used a bed of stones to make sure the base of the rain barrel was sturdy in all weather and able to support the weight of the barrel. To protect against mosquitos using your rain water as a breeding ground, be sure to have screening over all openings.
  • Level: This was the hardest part. Since you won’t want to move the rain barrel once it’s installed, take all the time you need on this step.
  • Have the right tools: If you purchase your rain barrel, follow the instructions. Common tools will include a level, a hacksaw, and a tape measure. Be sure you also have gloves and eye protection – a cut aluminum gutter can be sharp!

Now, if it would just rain! The conditions in my area have just been declared “abnormally dry” (designated “D0” on the U.S. Drought Monitor map). But with my rain barrel installed, I’ll be ready to save the rain when it does arrive.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She thanks fellow Healthy Waters bloggers Steve Donohue and Ken Hendrickson for their helpful hints on rain barrel installation.

 

 

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Rain Barrel Workshop Provides Educational Fun

By Kevin Kubik

Painted Rain Barrel

Painted Rain Barrel

My wife and I attended a rain barrel workshop in Eatontown, NJ.  The workshop was on teaching people about water conservation and reducing storm water runoff in our communities and making rain barrels. The best part of the workshop was that they gave us everything we needed to make our own rain barrel including the barrel, a spigot and all the fittings.

It was a lot of fun hearing about the program and making the rain barrel. Special instructions were given on how to connect two or more rain barrels in a series to make greater use of big rain events, what to water with the collected water (lawn and garden watering) and what to avoid (consumption). Everyone was also shown a couple of ways to avoiding mosquito breeding in the rain barrel.

I was so impressed with the presentation that I asked the instructor, Sara Mellor, if she could come to our next divisional “All Hands” meeting to give us a short presentation. She even gave us our own rain barrel that we will use in our Edison rain garden.

Rain Barrel Class

Rain Barrel Class

The workshop was provided by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program, Water Conservation Program, which is a collaborative initiative between Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection via funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The link to the rain barrel program is http://water.rutgers.edu/Stormwater_Management/rainbarrels.html. Check it out.

Every year, as part of “Rutgers Day,” a contest is held for the best painted rain barrel. There’s even a video on how to paint a rain barrel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVtLTkGO3zs&feature=youtu.be.

About the Author: Kevin Kubik is the region’s Deputy Director for the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center. He has worked as a chemist for the region for more than 31 years in the laboratory and in the quality assurance program.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Rainy Day Lesson

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Dave Deegan

Like many New Englanders, we’ve been really busy lately with our garden. The warm growing months are so fleeting here that you have to be ready the minute you can plant veggies and herbs to harvest some good food later in the summer.

It’s been even more hectic this year, because my wife and I acted on our carefully-developed plans of long-overdue landscaping in our yard. But as any homeowner can tell you, there usually is no simple plan. If you do this, then it triggers that. And that. And something else.

As we thought about how we wanted our yard to be, we knew we needed to address some drainage issues: gutters were draining directly onto a walkway, and in the winter that’s a recipe for dangerous slick ice. So we excavated a channel for the gutter to drain under the walkway, leading into a dry well. Now the water will slowly infiltrate into the earth without turning into mud or ice where we need to walk.

We have another area nearby, where a gutter channels rainwater from our garage, and we thought, “this is a great spot for a rain barrel!”

Diverting rain by collecting it in a rain barrel, or channeling into a dry well (or a rain garden) has a lot of advantages besides our immediate need to address extra runoff in our garden. Stormwater runoff can collect a lot of bad stuff, especially in urban areas with lots of pavement and other hard impermeable surfaces. As water runs off roofs, parking lots and roads, it collects all the trace residues of chemicals, nutrients, silt and debris that have accumulated, and swiftly deposits it all in the nearest storm sewer, and from there it often goes directly into nearby streams, ponds or another water body. In other words, pollution.

It’s amazing how quickly our 55 gallon rain barrel fills up, just waiting for a dry spell when we need to water our garden. It’s been raining steadily for about the past six hours – not even pouring hard – and the rain barrel is full. That’s just one section of roof and gutter. It makes me realize how much water comes down in a typical rainstorm, and how much of a difference our household decisions can make to help solve a problem.

Find more New England resources on how to “Soak Up the Rain.”

More Green infrastructure solutions to stormwater

About the author:  Dave Deegan works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. When he’s not digging rocks out of his garden, he loves being outdoors in one of New England’s many special places.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Around the Water Cooler: Surf’s Up?

By Maggie Sauerhage

When it comes to reading waves, surfers are the experts. But many surfers in Los Angeles won’t even put a foot in the water on rainy days for fear of getting sick from the pollution that flows into the ocean.

Communities in southern California have been looking for ways to stop polluted stormwater from reaching their coasts. Los Angeles is looking at tapping green infrastructure practices as a solution. They hope such practices will not only prevent tainted runoff from reaching popular surfing sites, but provide a new source of water clean enough to drink.

Such an innovative approach shows the growing concern about drinking water across the country. That’s why EPA researchers are studying a variety of approaches—including green infrastructure—to determine cost-effective and sustainable solutions.

Green infrastructure refers to sustainable practices, such as porous paving materials, rain gardens, and cisterns, that reduce pollution by either retaining stormwater–which keeps it out of sewers and prevents overflow—or redirects water into the ground where it can be filtered by plants and soil.

In Omaha, EPA scientists are working with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and city officials to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs), which threaten human and environmental health through water contamination. The scientists are identifying sites where green infrastructure installations such as rain gardens, rain barrels, and cisterns will have the greatest impact in reducing stormwater runoff and preventing sewers from overflowing.

EPA researchers are also developing a tool the will soon be publically available for use by individuals, developers, landscapers, and city planners to help manage stormwater runoff on their properties. The EPA’s desktop Stormwater Calculator application will provide information on how various green infrastructure practices can reduce runoff based on local soil conditions, average yearly rainfall, and the surrounding environment. Users simply need to enter their zip code to compare different green infrastructure scenarios and see how they change the runoff volume from their location.

The variety of innovative green infrastructure research aimed at cleaning up our water and creating more drinking water resources makes me hopeful that communities will be able to respond to their unique challenges with smart and sustainable solutions. They will also help keep our beaches clean, so that even when it rains: Surf’s up!

About the Author: Maggie Sauerhage is a student services contractor working on the Science Communications Team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Around the Water Cooler: Rain Barrels Make Me Happy

By Sarah Blau

Rain barrel

This rain barrel in the Carrboro Town Commons brought a smile to my face. Catching runoff from a downspout, it provides water for the nearby landscaping.

I recently attended an outdoor music concert in Carrboro, NC. Whilst enjoying the local bluegrass and exploring the Town Commons venue, I discovered something that brought a smile to my face—rain barrels!

Here at EPA I have learned an awful lot about stormwater and all the problems it causes when it runs off our roads and rooftops into the sewer system or nearby water bodies. (See: Keeping Stormwater In Place) On the positive side, I have also learned of all the cool research EPA is doing to confront this problem using sustainable practices.

It was here that I first learned what rain barrels are, how they help the environment and help cut water utility fees at the same time! These barrels catch water pouring off roofs and store that water for later use such as watering gardens. At the same time, rain barrels keep excess water out of the local sewer system where it can cause flooding and pollute nearby water resources. The best part is that rain barrels are easy to install and many towns have rain barrel give-aways or rain barrels to purchase at reduced cost, or you can even make your own.

Check out this cool video to learn more about rain barrels: Rain Barrels: Small Investment, Big Benefits

Rain barrels are not the only measure you can take at your own home to help curb the problems of stormwater runoff. You could also:

  • Install a rain garden—these gardens, located in low-lying areas, will “catch” water runoff and give it time to soak into the soil.
  • Choose gravel over paved driveways—gravel allows rainwater to soak into the ground where it lands while paved driveways divert rainwater toward the main road or storm drain.
  • Consider growing a green roof—green roofs not only soak up rainwater hitting your roof, but also have been shown to help insulate your home, lowering energy costs for heating and cooling!

After learning so much about rain barrels and other stormwater practices, I lament the fact that I live in an apartment and cannot install my own. At least I can spread the word and hopefully convince you to look into these environmentally friendly, economical, and useful additions for your own home.

About the author: Sarah Blau is a student services contractor working on the Science Communications Team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She eagerly awaits the day she owns a home and can install her own rain barrels and rain gardens!


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Around the Water Cooler: Soaking up Rainfall and Reducing Sewage Overflows

By Katie Lubinsky

Did you know that 14 billion gallons of untreated sewage overflows each year into Mill Creek from Cincinnati’s combined sewer system? Such overflows can harm environmental and public health and put cities, including Cincinnati, in violation of the Clean Water Act, resulting in costly fines.

In an attempt to mitigate this issue, EPA hydrologist Dr. Bill Shuster is leading a team of scientists to explore how cities can tap rain gardens and other types of “green infrastructure” in Cincinnati and other cities with combined sewer systems.

Combined sewer systems involve a network of grates and pipes that combine storm water runoff and wastewater—from streets, homes and businesses—into one major underground pipe where it flows towards a treatment plant. When heavy rains lead to too much water for the system to handle, the excess overflows directly into a nearby water body, untreated.

I met and filmed Dr. Shuster to explore how cities like Cincinnati can reduce the amount of water flowing into sewer systems. While traveling to a rain garden with Dr. Shuster, I noticed row-after-row of vacant lots. Where buildings had once stood, the lots are now filled with hard soil that acts like impermeable cement, shedding rainfall into the combined sewer system. Dr. Shuster’s research shows how green infrastructure could replace these vacant lots and reduce runoff.

While filming, I learned about Dr. Shuster’s research: green infrastructure soaks up stormwater and reduces the amount and rate of water going into the combined sewer system. Rain gardens are Dr. Shuster’s specialty. He helps install and measure their effectiveness in reducing runoff. Green Infrastructure combines good soils with plants that are tolerant of both drought and heavy rains. The rainfall is stored and infiltrated into the gardens, where it can provide water to other plants near by keeping excess water out of the sewer system!

His research is gaining momentum in other areas with combined sewer systems, most recently in Omaha, Nebraska. It not only helps the systems work well, but these rain gardens and green spaces aesthetically enhance communities and provide other important ecosystem services such as habitat and food for pollinators.

Instead of row-after-row of vacant lots or abandoned houses in our neighborhoods, green infrastructure can replace them and have positive effects for all.

About the author: Katie Lubinsky is a student contractor working with EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Around the Water Cooler: Keeping Stormwater In Place

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

Raining in the city

No where to run: stormwater has no place to go but the sewer.

In the first post of my series on EPA water research, I gave a little history lesson and introduced green infrastructure. This week, we’re going to focus on the cost of combined sewer systems—to our health, our environment and even our economy.

There are hundreds of cities across the country that have combined sewer systems. For example, in New York City, more than 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted stormwater discharge out of 460 combined sewer overflows into the New York Harbor alone each year. Think about all the impermeable surfaces in the city: sidewalks, streets, roofs, patios. It’s a concrete jungle.

To manage stormwater—and set up scenarios to see the impact of development—EPA scientists are developing the Stormwater Calculator that estimates the annual amount of stormwater runoff from a specific site and provides city planners, developers, and property owners a way to calculate the result of specific actions on our waterways. The online tool will be available later this fall.

As stormwater flows over the surface of your property, driveways, parking lots, roofs, etc, it picks up lots of sediments, such as animal droppings, tire residue, motor oil, brake dust, deicing compounds (in the winter), fertilizers, pesticides, trash, heavy metals and other pollutants and carries them to the nearest storm drain.

Obviously, there are things that cities can do to help reduce stormwater run off, and the steep price tag that goes with the cost of separating the combined sewer systems.

For example, in Omaha, the city is testing green infrastructure throughout the city to help reduce the $1.7 billion sewer system separation project. EPA scientists are testing and monitoring soils in Omaha, and other cities such as Cleveland and Cincinnati, to measure how successful green infrastructure is at keeping the combined sewer overflows to a minimum.

City of Omaha

Cities like Omaha are looking for ways to use green infrastructure to reduce stormwater costs.

There are steps you can take too.

According to the University of Nebraska, for every 1,000 square feet of impermeable surface on your property, every 1 inch of rainfall generates approximately 626 gallons of water. If you add two 55 gallon rain barrels to your property, you now have water to irrigate your gardens. Add a rain garden, and you probably take care of much of the excess. Now, rain is absorbed back into our aquifers instead of rushing into the nearest storm drain, keeping waterways clean and ecosystems functioning.

Many states and counties subsidize the installation of green infrastructure on property, so check with your county and state government. It’s worth it to make sure we have clean water for generations to come.

About the Author: Known around the office as “AguaGirl,” Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources team and  communicates water research to anyone who will listen or read her blog posts.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.