Well, to begin with, I may not give you 100 reasons to use a rain barrel, but here’s a big one right off the bat! Residential water use increases up to 40 or 50 percent during summer months due to outdoor water use. To combat this (and for other reasons I’m about to give you) my colleagues within the Alabama Cooperative Extension System have been doing rain barrel workshops around the state. Let’s look deeper into why YOU should have and use rain barrels, okay?
For starters, let’s realize water collected in a rain barrel would normally pour right off your roof or flow from your gutters as stormwater runoff. Depending on your individual location, this water may then travel to a paved surface and then on to a ditch, stream or eventually a storm drain.
As paved areas, developments, housing, roads, etc., increase, we see higher and higher levels of stormwater crashing into ditches and streams (as well as municipal sewer and waste water systems) where it causes erosion, overflowing and an over-loading of water treatment systems. The volume and power of these streams continues to increase as our areas of imperious surfaces (like concrete or paved areas) increase. Not good!
Besides what storm water is doing as it runs off, rain barrels conserve water and help lower costs for YOU! A rain barrel can save approximately 1,300 gallons of water during peak summer months! And, as water supplies continue to dwindle (and our populations continue to rise), this is an important thing to do. Now, the question is what do you do with the water you’d collect with a rain barrel?
Rain barrels can be used to save water for plants during dry periods. They can also be situated and equipped to slowly release that water (through soaker hoses, irrigation emitters, etc.) to plants and trees...or even used to water indoor plants with non-chlorinated water. And they’re inexpensive, easy to install, and easy to maintain.
So, while you’re saving money and helping our environment (and using rainwater to wash your car, water potted plants, etc.), you may wonder, "Will there be enough rain to replenish my barrel?" Fear not. For every 1,000 square feet of roof area served by a downspout, there will be 600 gallons of water available during a one-inch rainfall event. This means your barrel will need an overflow hose and a plan for where that water will be directed. You’ll want to keep it away from your house and possibly direct it toward a rain garden...but that’s a whole "nother" story!
Jerry A. Chenault is an Urban Regional Extension Agent with The Alabama Cooperative Extension System, New & Nontraditional Programs division.