GRN Reports

This week’s downpour and flooding in Phoenix reminded us of one key reason everyone should have a rain barrel.

The rain, the remnant of Hurricane Norbert, was sudden and unexpected. It pounded the dry desert earth, which couldn’t absorb it, and then wreaked havoc in neighborhoods and on some highways.

While rain barrels wouldn’t have had any significant slowing effect on this deluge, they would have allowed residents to stash water for landscape irrigation later on.

Rainwater Harvesting System ...TreeHouse in Austin

Rain barrel at Tree House in Austin. (Photo: GRN)

Austin and Central Texas could be in a similar position if Gulf of Mexico storms push any big rain their way this fall. If you’re looking for help setting up a rain barrel, Austin Water can help. You may even qualify for their rebate program for those who install a rain harvesting system. Find out more here.

But there’s another reason rain barrels can be helpful that’s not as well understood. In normal rainfall situations, they can capture water and slow runoff, mitigating the flow of pollution into nearby lakes and streams.

Sierra Club volunteers are working this angle in Detroit, by using rain barrels in lakefront neighborhoods to stop rain runoff from mixing with oils and pollutants on the street and then washing into Lake Erie.

These rain barrels are an important tool for keeping the Great Lakes, which contain one-fifth of the world’s freshwater, as pure as possible, as Sierra magazine reports:

In April and July, the Club’s Michigan Chapter teamed up with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and other Detroit-area groups for the ongoing Rain Barrels on the Riverfront workshop at the city’s scenic RiverWalk. The goal: get people to use rain barrels to catch roof runoff before it mixes with street pollutants and drains into aging sewage systems and then into rivers and Lake Erie.

After tucking a barrel under a shortened downspout, you can capture rainwater to irrigate your garden. “Rain barrel water protects the environment and saves money,” says Melissa Damaschke, director of the Club’s Great Lakes Program. “Just don’t drink it.”

So even in areas where rainfall is adequate or plentiful, rain barrels can be helpful.

And in the dry, dry US West, they’re a no-brainer.

(Painted rain barrels above are from the Lincoln, Nebraska, rain barrel painting contest.)