Herald Journal Columns
July 24, 2006, Herald Journal

Roll out the barrels


Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were perhaps the greatest proponents of rain barrels.

One does not see many around these days, but during the golden age of comedy, they could be found in abundance.

Laurel and Hardy frequently used rain barrels in their work.

There is something about seeing a grown man falling off of a roof and landing in a rain barrel that never gets old.

Despite the fact that rain barrels have been around for thousands of years, they seem to have fallen out of favor, and that is a shame.

Rain barrels are far more than props for comedians.

They provide a practical and inexpensive way to solve a problem that many homeowners face.

Recent dry weather has caused many communities to impose watering bans. Increased demand has put a strain on some municipal water systems.

Even in those cites where watering restrictions have not been imposed, many people complain about their water bills.

Rain barrels can provide a way to protect lakes and rivers, while saving a lot of money on water bills.

The concept is simple. Rainwater runoff from roofs is channelled through downspouts and collected in barrels for later use.

Many options are available.

Today, rain barrels generally range from 50 to 80 gallons. One common source is the 60-gallon food-grade plastic barrel, which is available from companies that use bulk food items.

The cost of rain collection systems can range from about $70 to $300 if purchased from a company that builds them, but they can be made at home to save money.

Plans and instructions are available from many sources, and seminars and classes are offered in some areas.

Rain barrels can be made from a variety of materials, and can be decorated to compliment a house or garden.

All rain barrels should be equipped with a screen or lid to keep debris, children, and other creatures out.

The amount of rainwater that can be collected in rain barrels is substantial.

Every inch of rain that falls on a 1,000-square-foot roof translates to about 600 gallons of rainwater.

This amounts to about 6,000 gallons for every 10 inches of rain per thousand square feet of roof.

The water that is collected is typically used for watering gardens and lawns.

Not only is rainwater free, it can improve the health of gardens, lawns, and trees, because it is naturally soft, and does not contain the minerals, chlorine, and other chemicals that are normally found in city water.

Rainwater can also be used for watering indoor plants.

In addition to being a simple way to save money, collecting rainwater is good for the environment.

Water runoff from impervious surfaces ends up in storm sewers, lakes or rivers. This runoff can wash contaminants and chemicals, such as lawn fertilizer, into streams.

Even though rain barrels can save money and help to protect the environment, some people will still choose to turn on a tap rather than harvesting rainwater.

But, this kind of irresponsible thinking is not sustainable indefinitely.

Even in the land of 10,000 lakes, water is not an unlimited resource.

It is true that more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, but only about 2.5 percent of is is fresh water.

Much of this water is in the form of glaciers and ice caps, leaving a relatively small amount of fresh water.

This limited water supply is in jeopardy because of increasing contamination.

Changing our habits, and the way we look at water, can help to combat the problem and conserve this vital resource.

Rain barrels can be funny in the hands of the kings of comedy, but they can also provide a simple and renewable way to deal with a very serious problem.