Rain Barrels


(This 905th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on July 27, 2008.)



A Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper Rain Barrell


Some years ago a friend attended a group tour of an Amherst sewage disposal facility. It was raining hard outside and suddenly a bell began to ring. My friend asked what the bell signaled and was told, "That's when our facilities are overburdened." "What happens then?" he asked. The response: "The storm sewage overflow goes into Ellicott Creek."


That was my introduction to a serious problem we share with communities all across this country: how can we address the temporary but serious pollution caused by storm system overflow? Locally, any significant rainfall overloads our municipal storm sewers and causes raw sewage to enter our creeks, the Niagara River and ultimately Lakes Erie and Ontario. Those are the times when our lakeside beaches are closed for several days. As my friend's experience indicates, this is not just a city problem; it's a problem for suburban and rural communities as well.


The Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper organization has come up with a way you can play a small but ultimately significant role in addressing this problem. I recommend their solution not only to individuals but also to regional shopkeepers and industries.


The solution offered is based on an exceptionally simple idea: If we can store storm water temporarily during rainstorms and release it only later during drier periods, we can reduce and possibly even eliminate the effect of all but the very worst deluges. In doing so we can also cut down on our water bills.


The Riverkeeper's answer: rain barrels. They are offering water collecting 60-gallon rain barrels for sale. You can direct a gutter downspout into one of these barrels or, if you don't have gutters, locate one where roof runoff occurs; collect water runoff during subsequent rainstorms; and use that water later to be distributed to your lawn, trees or garden. (The collected water is, however, not suitable for drinking by humans or pets.)


This is one of those "every little bit helps" concepts. A few of these rain barrels will do little to address the problem but many thousands of them will. The Riverkeeper' goal is to add a thousand of these barrels to this region every year. That means collecting 60,000 gallons of water during each storm, still not much, perhaps, but over time if that goal is met each year 60,000 more gallons will be reserved.


Buffalo is not alone in addressing this problem by use of rain barrels. Chicago, Portland, Toronto and Kansas City already have projects underway. They join in a national catch phrase: "Help us keep the rain from the drain."


The barrels are being sold for $99.95 plus tax, with a 10% discount for group purchase of ten or more. They are plastic, 39 inches tall with a 24-inch diameter. Empty they weigh about 20 pounds; filled they will weigh 500 pounds more. Each barrel comes with installation instructions, an overflow fitting, a drain plug, a screw-on cover with a mosquito-preventing screen, and a threaded spigot for an output hose near the bottom. Only three neutral colors are available -- brown, green or gray -- but the barrels can then be painted in decorative colors to enhance the appearance of your yard or garden.


You will be surprised at how fast these barrels will fill during a storm. For example, the water collected from a half-inch rainfall on a 10-foot by 20-foot roof area would fill one. For this reason it is possible to link a series of barrels to collect larger amounts.


Much more information about the barrels may be obtained from the website, www.bnriverkeeper.org/rainbarrel.htm; by calling Kerri Bentkowski, the Riverkeeper coordinator for this project, at 852-7483; or by emailing her at kbentkowski@bnriverkeeper.org. You can also order one or more of these barrels from Kerri. Barrels ordered by August 1 will be available for pickup from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, August 16 at the Riverkeeper office, 1250 Niagara Street in Buffalo. Later orders will be filled on subsequent dates.


Note that there is an historical aspect to this solution. Backyard rain-gathering barrels were a common sight in colonial times when water was a precious commodity not so readily available from kitchen faucets. Hopefully they will become common once again.-- Gerry Rising