Low-Tech Rain Barrels Help Conserve Water

May 26, 2005
Marcia Hartwig, Public Information Officer, 224-3746
Land & Water Resources

The rain barrel, a rainwater collection device commonly used in early twentieth-century America for household uses, is making a comeback throughout the country as a way for property owners to reduce their water bills, store rain water for their lawns and gardens, and manage stormwater runoff. Twenty percent of rain is lost as runoff from impervious surfaces such as rooftops and driveways, according to a Dane County Regional Planning Commission study. That 20 percent becomes loaded with contaminating sediments as it rushes to the storm drain and into local lakes and streams, causing damage to the aquatic ecosystem. One solution to the problem is to collect that water--attaching the downspout to a rain barrel. The stored water eliminates the need to use tap water for yard use, resulting in lower water bills and conserved groundwater. Rainwater is better than tap water for plants and lawns because of its slight acidity, which helps plants absorb the soil’s minerals, and because it contains no added chemicals. Rain barrels are a practical water conservation tool. Rain barrels are now being encouraged in many areas of the Pacific Northwest, where periods of drought occur. California offers tax credits for installation of some type of rain collection system. “This simple and inexpensive water collection tool has multiple benefits to the homeowner and helps improve our lakes and streams. Like the garden hose, it should become standard yard equipment,” said Dane County Office of Lakes and Watersheds Public Information Officer Marcia Hartwig. Rain barrels are easy to build with fittings available at local hardware stores. Fully assembled barrels can be ordered from Internet outlets and range in cost from $80 to $300. Locally, the non-profit Upper Sugar River Watershed Association (www.usrwa.org) sells rain barrels for $50, which benefits the organization. Each barrel has a spigot, overflow hose valve, and an atrium to filter out debris. Ace Hardware on Williamson Street sells rain barrel kits, and local landscaping companies may also carry rain barrels. For more information visit www.myfairlakes.com or www.danewaters.com. ###