Collecting Water For Conservation

A rain-barrel program won’t provide a revenue stream or make a park and recreation department rich, but it will educate the public on the importance of water conservation.

Working in partnership with the Conservation Foundation, a Naperville, Ill.,-based, not-for-profit land and watershed protection organization, the St. Charles Park District’s rain-barrel program has distributed nearly 100 barrels since its inception 2 years ago.

“While our program is in its infancy, we have made great strides in creating public awareness concerning the conservation of water,” says Manager of Natural Areas Denis Kania. “Each winter and spring season, we sell anywhere from 12 to 20 barrels,” he adds.

Seasonally, the district offers the general public a free presentation by a local land-preservation specialist on landscaping for water conservation with a discussion on the benefits and installation of rain barrels.

Recycling Resources

Historical records show that rainwater has been collected in simple containers for thousands of years. As stated on, only 3 percent of the earth’s water is fresh water, and 66 percent of that water is frozen in glaciers or otherwise unavailable for use today. But rainwater is often treated like a waste product. Millions of dollars are spent each year to build and maintain systems that transport rainwater and snow melt away from homes, businesses, schools, roads, and recreation areas, most often to a storm drain that empties directly into a river or stream. By capturing rainwater on one’s own property, this free resource can be immediately recycled and, over time, can also help recharge local groundwater sources and aquifers.

Practical Uses

Rain barrels are a low-impact improvement that can be made to any home. Modern rain barrels are sealed, safe around children, and insect-resistant by using a lid or mesh cover. Rain barrels collected the water at the end of a downspout, and use a gravity-fed drainage system that allows homeowners to control access to the collected water through a simple spigot-and-hose connection. A garden hose can be connected to the bottom of the barrels so the water is there for a variety of everyday uses. Since rainwater doesn’t contain chlorine, lime, or calcium, it is ideal for watering flowers and vegetables, as well as for washing cars or windows. However, water collected from rain barrels is not suitable for drinking unless treated with a special filtration system.

Even if there is no intended use for the water, emptying a rain barrel after a storm reduces the rate and volume of storm water the sewer system and local rivers and streams have to manage at a peak time.

The maintenance required for using a rain barrel is minimal. During the rainy months, the barrel must be routinely inspected; any debris that has accumulated on the lid that might block the screen mesh must be removed. The inside of the barrel also should be cleaned regularly. During the winter months, a barrel should be taken out of operation by elevating the hose to prevent freezing or cracking. It also helps to either turn a barrel upside down or store it inside.

With the rising price of municipal water and drought restrictions now facing much of the U.S. during the summer months, more homeowners are turning to harvesting rainwater to save money and protect this precious natural resource. Since lawn and garden watering can comprise nearly 40 percent of a household’s total water use, the United States Environmental Protection Agency notes that capturing and storing rainwater can save about 1,300 gallons of water during the height of the summer. Even a quarter-inch of rainfall can yield over 200 gallons of water, according to the Conservation Foundation. It only takes about a half-hour of steady rainfall to fill a rain barrel.

A Worthy Cause

At the St. Charles Park District, the cost of a 55-gallon, recycled, food-grade plastic rain barrel equipped with a spigot, garden-hose threaded overflow, top screen to keep out bugs or debris, and screw-off lid is $65, including tax. Installation accessories are available for an additional fee.

Funds raised from the sale of rain barrels benefit the district’s ongoing natural-area restoration efforts. The district manages more than 500 acres of native woodlands, wetlands, and prairies, including two Illinois State Nature Preserves: Norris Woods and Ferson Creek Fen.

Unlike some environmental challenges, the fate of the water resources on which humans depend is completely in their control. Making simple changes in the ways water is used and households are managed will mean more and cleaner water for future generations.

Erika Young is the Marketing Manager for the St. Charles Park District. Reach her at .