Rain barrels, so common many years ago, are making a strong comeback to store rooftop runoff for later use. This practical, water-conserving reservoir can be a container of any size and material, but most are made from 55-gallon plastic drums.
The City of Lincoln, Neb., Watershed Management Division promotes the use of rain barrels to homeowners to reduce storm water runoff, the most common source of surface water pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that pollutants in storm water runoff are responsible for about 70 percent of all water pollution in lakes, rivers and creeks. Since most property is privately owned, we all need to do our part to reduce this type of pollution, including properly disposing of waste, reducing fertilizer and pesticide use, picking up after pets and managing rainwater.
What can you do to reduce storm water runoff and conserve water? Install a rain barrel! Many people think of rain barrels as a way to save water to irrigate plants, indoor and outdoor alike, but rainwater can be used for other purposes, such as washing clothes and hair. Jumping on the rain barrel bandwagon can be as cheap or creative as you like—from building your own to purchasing one adorned with artistic design, your options are plentiful.
Building a rain barrel can cost as little as $50 and take under an hour to assemble. Most do-it-yourselfers agree that starting with a food-grade recycled plastic drum, which can be obtained from Keep Nebraska Beautiful at (402) 486-4622, is the easiest solution. From this point, you’ll need to drill openings and assemble the spigot, overflow and rainwater entry points. One can find a do-it-yourself guide at http://lincoln.ne.gov, keyword: rain barrel or on YouTube.
Need some help building a rain barrel? The City of Lincoln offers a course through Southeast Community College to build your own rain barrel, with all supplies provided. This class is available several times during the spring and summer at a cost of $49. This opportunity for cheap rain barrels also provides citizens with a lesson about water quality. To register, please contact Southeast Community College at (402) 437-2712. If you don’t have time for building a rain barrel or taking a class, the city has partnered with the People’s City Mission Homeless Shelter to provide low-cost, recycled, food-grade rain barrels to residents. A portion of the purchase is considered a tax-deductible donation. In addition, there are a variety of hardware and garden stores where you can purchase an affordable, fully assembled rain barrel.
Once you assemble or purchase your rain barrel, it can be transformed into a unique feature of your landscape with a variety of camouflaging options. Consider circling a barrel in chicken wire fence and starting a vine plant, wrapping a barrel in wooden stakes and fixed with copper wire or painting one artistically. If you don’t consider yourself an artist, you can bid on one through Lincoln’s Artistic Rain Barrel program.
The Friends of Pioneers Park Nature Center and the Lincoln Watershed Management Division joined to teach the benefits of using barrels and raise funds by inviting 25 local artists to paint 55-gallon barrels. The Artistic Rain Barrels are currently displayed at locations throughout Lincoln, where they’ll stay until April 9. The Artistic Rain Barrel Auction will be on Saturday, April 17, at 9:30 a.m. at the Pioneer’s Park Nature Market in Lincoln. The proceeds of the auction will benefit the Friends of Pioneers Park Nature Center, which will use the funds to provide preschool and camp scholarships to low-income families.
Whether you do-it-yourself, purchase one from a retailer or bid on one at the auction, all routes to obtaining a rain barrel lead to the same points—reducing storm water runoff, conserving water and saving money. When thinking about spring gardening, consider adding something to your plan, both old and new—a rain barrel.