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Engineering View of Rain Barrels

November 9, 2008


Green barrel, originally uploaded by VanWhelan.

One of the benefits to my (N.) job is getting to listen to a discussion on current research in water management. The scope of that general topic is endlessly wide and while I don’t find it all fascinating every once in awhile something really strikes home with me. This week it was a discussion given by a civil engineer about the affects of the use of rain barrels in storm water management. He is part of a program that gave out specially designed rain barrels for free to residents within a certain watershed in order to determine if this was an effective way to prevent excess rainwater from entering the storm water system.

What they determined was rather surprising. They actually had a problem with gardeners. You see the barrels were designed to fill in rain event and then slowly leak out of a specially designed valve over the course of a couple days. This way the water didn’t rush into a stream they were trying to restore and cause damage to the fragile ecosystem. It would also allow the water to be naturally infiltrated into the groundwater supply. So what’s their beef with gardeners? Instead of releasing the water, gardeners would keep the water stored in the rain barrel for use in irrigation. This the barrel was much more likely to overflow and thus defeat the whole point of the rain barrels (in the eyes of the engineers that is).

Honestly I never thought about rain barrels as a way to manage storm water overflow. I looked at them as a way to capture a naturally occurring resource and use it at a later date. This doesn’t meant that rain barrels can’t serve both purposes. One gentleman said he and his wife were constantly battling over the rain barrel (his wife the gardener won) so they purchased another. They are still capturing all of the rain which prevents pollutants from getting into our surface water and excessive erosion in our stream beds but now they are reusing some for the garden and slowly infiltrating the rest and thus replenishing ground water supplies.

Life as always is about adaption and compromise.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2008 8:30 am

    Very interesting. Mr Chiot’s and I installed a rain barrel system, we save the water and then use it for irrigation. We installed 7-55 gal barrels, so it rarely fills up. When it does, we overflow it into the woods for the trees, not into the storm drain runoff.

  2. November 10, 2008 6:16 am

    That is very interesting. We save rain water for our animals and garden. We have a large tank the water is diverted too from the house gutters. It has saved us a lot on the water bill. And we have no storm drain runoff here in the woods! šŸ˜‰

  3. November 26, 2008 3:07 pm

    very interesting comment, I am one of these gardeners whos rain barrel may have overflowed in the past!! I’ll manage this more carefully from now on.

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