Improving water quality one barrel at a time

Rain barrels offer a low-cost sustainable option for managing stormwater runoff.

Youth paint a rain barrel recently. Sketching your design first on a sheet of paper can help the painting process. The rain barrels will be on display around Bay County in August. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

Youth paint a rain barrel recently. Sketching your design first on a sheet of paper can help the painting process. The rain barrels will be on display around Bay County in August. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

Stormwater runoff occurs when rain falls on hard surfaces such as roads, parking lots, rooftops and sidewalks. This water then flows into storm drains carrying with it a variety of pollutants such as sediment, trash, heavy metals, chemicals and bacteria. In many communities this water is discharged directly from the stormwater system into local rivers and lakes.

Green infrastructure offers a unique approach to managing stormwater that mimics the way rainwater is stored and filtered in nature. Green infrastructure methods slow down, store and filter rain water before it reaches the storm drain leading to improved water quality and flood protection. Green infrastructure comes in different shapes and sizes from large networks of urban parks and wetlands to smaller projects such as bioswales, rain gardens and green roofs.

Rain barrels are one of the most affordable and low maintenance examples of green infrastructure.

How do rain barrels work?

A rain barrel is connected directly to the downspout of a gutter system. During a rainfall event, water runs off the roof through the downspout and into the barrel. A protective screen over the water intake opening keeps insects and debris out of the barrel. Water stored in the barrel can be used for everyday outdoor activities such as washing your car or watering the lawn. Many rain barrels have a spigot or hose attachment to make using the stored rainwater even easier. By capturing and storing rainwater for later use, rain barrels reduce runoff leading to improved water quality and less stress on stormwater infrastructure.

In addition to reducing stormwater runoff, rain barrels also provide important water conservation benefits. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about 30% of the water used in the average American household goes to outdoor tasks such as watering lawns and gardens. That adds up to 35,000 gallons of water every year! Rain barrels allow for rainwater to be collected and stored for later use reducing residential water consumption and saving money on water bills.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

Read more on rain barrels:

Bay County youth create, display artistic rain barrels

5 easy steps to creating your own artistic rain barrel

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