Fall HomeFront 2014

Rain Barrels Save Water, Save Money and Reduce Runoff

Sep 19, 2014

A rain barrel painted by students from LBI’s Ethel A. Jacobsen Elementary School was installed outside the Long Beach Township municipal building in May, and, since that time, has collected rainwater that employees then use for the flower boxes at the entrance to town hall. “Harvesting and recycling rainwater is a simple way to reduce water consumption,” said township recycling/Clean Communities coordinator Angela C. Andersen, “and it helps to keep runoff from entering the bay.”

Rain barrels are typically recycled and retrofitted 55-gallon, food-grade barrels placed under a gutter’s downspout next to a house to collect rainwater from the roof.

“Harvesting rainwater has many benefits including saving water, saving money on your bill, and preventing basement flooding,” as noted on Rutgers Water Resources Program website, water.rutgers.edu/Stormwater_Management/rainbarrels.html.

“By collecting rainwater, homeowners are also helping to reduce flooding and pollution in local waterways. When rainwater runs off of hard surfaces like rooftops, driveways, roadways, parking lots, and compacted lawns, it carries with it pollution to our local waterways. Harvesting the rainwater in a rain barrel is just one of the ways homeowners can reduce rainwater from running off their property and possibly causing pollution and flooding problems in local waterways.”

By installing just one rain barrel, a homeowner in New Jersey could save about 1,300 gallons of water during the summer season, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates. The state averages about 45 inches of rainfall per year, and an 800-square-foot roof is able to produce approximately 500 gallons of water in a 1-inch rain storm.

In the summertime, the EPA notes online at epa.gov/reg3esd1/garden/rainbarrel.html, lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40 percent of total household water usage. A rain barrel collects water and stores it “for when you need it most – during periods of drought – to water plants,” or to wash cars or windows.

“The whole point,” said Andersen, “is to recycle the rainwater.” In this area, particularly, residents should be cognizant of the basic water concept of returning rainwater to the earth. “We live on a sandbar, and we have to be aware of it.”

So, as local homeowners rebuild, and build smarter, in this post-Sandy era, “design with rainwater in mind,” Andersen encourages. (Native plants, she added, go hand-in-hand with installing rain barrels.)

Rutgers suggests that residents cover or turn their rain barrels upside down during the winter months so water doesn’t freeze inside them, and then hook the barrel back up in the spring.

In addition to a food-grade, 55-gallon drum – like those used for pickling or by companies such as Ocean Spray – those seeking to create their own rain barrel need such items as a vinyl hose, PVC couplings, a screen grate to keep debris and insects out, and other off-the-shelf items. “A rain barrel is relatively simple and inexpensive to construct and can sit conveniently under any residential gutter down spout,” Rutgers explains.

Rain barrel installation instructions can be found on the EPA website, epa.gov/reg3esd1/garden/rainbarrel.html, as well as Rutgers’ website, water.rutgers.edu/Stormwater_Management/rainbarrelbrochure.pdf.

Companies such as EarthMinded also sell do-it-yourself rain barrel kits online.

Or look for local rain barrel building workshops this spring, similar to the one Long Beach Township and Yoga Bohemia held at the latter’s yoga studio in North Beach Haven this past August. All the barrels for the workshop were donated by the local cranberry industry for reuse in this “upcycling project,” as Andersen called it.

“The rain barrel,” she added, “is a great community tool to educate everyone on how to live a little greener, to get connected to the rhythms of our ecosystem.” —J.K.-H.

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