Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rain barrels are all the rage.....why?

My wife Vicky and two of her close friends signed up for rain barrels more than a month ago, sent in their $45 payments to the local conservation district and yesterday they finally got their long-awaited rain barrels.

They were delighted when they drove up to a local park and saw a knot of people and perhaps 30 plastic 55-gallon barrels lined up in rows outside of a shelter house. After 15 minutes of instruction by the conservation leader, the 20 or so women and a couple of men immediately got to the business of threading faucets and poly overflow pipes into the barrels that had been drilled prior to their arrival. Heeding the instructions of the conservationist, each participant proudly straddled their new barrel to get a better grip on their simple tasks. The late afternoon took on the aspects of a block party as the men and women, astride their barrels, cheerfully passed channel locks and monkey wrenches back and forth.

Yes, we all want to be environmentalists, especially those of us in the professional Green Industry. We do what we can on our properties and on our clients’ properties to conserve water and reduce runoff and non-point-source pollution.

But, I have to tell you; a rain barrel by itself (we now have two at our home) will NOT do the trick by itself. It's one tiny piece of the puzzle.

Even before we could get our new, second rain barrel in place the rains came. And they kept coming. Since I hadn’t properly installed even our first rain barrel (no provision for overflow) and fearing a flooded basement, I spent much of the day bailing water into our newly acquired rain barrel and then into any other large container I could find and finally (like Mickey Mouse the sorcerers apprentice in Fantasia) lugging it onto the back of our property and dumping it onto our flower garden. Bucket after bucket.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dissing rain barrels. If your wife or a customer wants one, let them have one. But I think I would tell them upfront that to catch rain — really catch rain — they’re going to need more than a single 55-gallon barrel.

In other words, let them know exactly what they’re getting.

Here are a few things your wife or your customer needs to know about rain barrels:

— A one inch rain on a 100 sq. ft. roof area will fill a 55-gal. rain barrel. What does that mean? It means to capture all of the rainwater (or even most of it) from the roof of your house you're going to need a lot more rain barrels. To capture all of a one inch rain —today we had 1.5 inches at my house — I would need 11 barrels, which of course is not about to happen. Looking at it another way, if you and your family lived in a 10-ft. X 10-ft. house you could capture almost every drop of rain in a single barrel from a one-inch event. But how many families live in a 10X10 house?

— You will need a fine mesh over your gutter connection to keep leaves and other debris from your barrel.

— Take measures to keep mosquitoes from breeding in your rain barrel. Again, a fine mesh covering would work. Or you can use tablespoon of olive oil in the water or “mosquito dunks”. Stagnate water breeds mosquitoes and it gets yucky.

— Don’t install your rain barrel too high off the ground. Water is heavy. Filled with water the barrel will weigh more than 300 lbs. and could fall on you and maim you. Unfortunately, there is not likely to be anybody around with a camera phone so others can share in your misfortune on America's Funniest Home Video.

— If you live anywhere but the far South remove your rain barrel from the downspout prior to winter and turn it upside down or on its side.

I'm sure it's obvious from my misadventures that I am not a rain barrel expert. So if you have anything to add to this tale (apart from ridicule, that is) share it please. — Ron Hall

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