Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rain barrels, like fingernails, are for function, not fashion

On May 15th, I posted a question asking why more people don’t use rain barrels. The responses have been overwhelming and have given me some good food for thought. I have to admit, though, that I’ve been having a hard time deciding how to respond. Here’s why:

First, I’m a real “natural” gal and a real natural gardener. I’ve never had a professional manicure in my life and I guarantee that no one will EVER call my landscape “manicured”. So I can’t relate a WHOLE lot to the people who said they won’t get a rain barrel because they think they are ugly. In my mind, rain barrels are more for function than fashion – kind of like fingernails – so ours are fairly plain and usually a little dirty. But, like fingernails, rain barrels can be as beautiful as you want to make them. Or they can be discretely placed behind lattice walls or vine covered trellises. My friend Elfrieda commented and said: “I recently added my eighth one (each one holds 55 gallons). When I have garden "tours", most people don’t even see them and ask where they are.”

Other comments received were just as difficult for me to relate to: They cost too much (ours didn’t since we made them), they are difficult to install (I kind of like doing stuff like that), they don’t have good water pressure (they work great for filling up watering cans), HOA rules won’t let me have one (we don’t have HOA’s) and it takes a long time to get them from the government.

The second reason I’ve been having a hard time deciding how to respond is this: I’m trying my best to be a “green”, eco-friendly gardener. I admit, I’m not always “green” in everything I do. I own and drive an SUV (although, granted, I don’t really drive much). I run the AC when I’m hot (and I’m at that age when I’m hot more often than not). And SOMETIMES I forget to turn off the water when I brush my teeth. But when it comes to my garden and landscape, I really try to be as “green” as possible. So, we have two rain barrels and we intend to build a few more when we get the chance.

The third reason I can’t relate to the many responses I got is this: many local government organizations are willing to HELP their residents do the right, eco-friendly thing, by offering assistance and cash rebates. THIS IS A REALLY GOOD THING!! The fact that they are BEHIND in getting to everyone is also a good thing. It means that people are participating. For goodness sakes, and for GREEN-ness sake, let’s not discourage these programs. Let’s participate, be patient and be appreciative. If we have suggestions to work the kinks out of the programs, let’s offer them. But let’s not stomp on the fingers of the groups that are trying to help us create our “green” gardens.

Okay, now before I redirect you to a post that responds to many of these concerns, I just wanted to comment again about the benefits of rain barrels. Yes, they do capture and hold water, which does help a little bit in times of drought. And, as pointed out by Garden Ruth on Facebook: “I have only one outdoor spigot and using rain barrels on the side without a water source helps me avoid having to install another spigot."

But another VERY important thing that they do is help redirect stormwater runoff.

From The District Department of the Environment website: Rainwater becomes stormwater when rain falls on impervious surfaces such as rooftops, driveways, roads, sidewalks and even lawns. As stormwater moves from our yards to our streams it picks up pollutants such as oil and grease from our roadways and driveways, nutrients from fertilizers on our lawns, and bacteria from pet waste and other animal excrement. Once in the stream, the fast-moving surges of water associated with storms cause erosion and destroys habitat for fish and other wildlife.

There are certainly lots of other ways to cut down on stormwater runoff. You can plant a rain garden. You can install a nice, paver driveway. You can quit using any chemicals in your landscape so that the rainwater that does come off of your property doesn’t cause as many problems. And of course, there is the option of not doing anything at all, if you are okay with that one. But just keep in mind that what you do in your landscape does affect a lot of other people, as pointed out by reader, Leigh Pickering of Arlington.

“I believe most people don't make the connection between their downspouts routed directly to the curb and the flooding of property (and loss of dozens of autos) at the bottom of the hill. (I live near 4 Mile Run Arlington, this happened in '06) They don't understand the lowering of the water table on their (and others) property as a result of their actions or why they lost valuable mature trees and have continual drought stress on their plants. They have never calculated the amount (per roof footage) and value (per their municipal water bill) of the water they literally throw out (Almost $12 per 1000 gallons in Arlington). They are unaware of the enormous costs of managing stormwater off-site or the tax savings that could result from on-site management. And most people are unaware of the loss of quality streams and water habitat as a result of high, fast water flows and its concurrent erosion. Few people understand the importance of impermeable lot coverage laws, and flout them with regularity. Unfortunately, their ignorance is darned expensive for everyone else too.”

Click here to see the results and responses to my rain barrel survey

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