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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog

Saving the Rain for Later


The past few weeks have been very wet. We seem to have a lot more rain in the spring, and this year is no exception to that rule. We have had an average of approximately four inches of rain over the last 30 days. This is a lot of water that could be used during the summer months when there is less rain. Rain barrels are an excellent way to save that rain for a not-so-rainy day.

There are many benefits to rain barrels including:

  • Decreasing your water bill - Using a rain barrel can reduce the water you need to purchase to keep your flowers looking their best throughout the year. A rain fall of one inch per hour on 1000 sq. ft. will yield 10 gallons of water per minute.
  • Better for plants - Municipal water has a few things added to it that is not always beneficial to plants. This includes chemicals like chlorine, which makes the water safe for us to drink but is not something that plants need for healthy growth. Softened water also poses some problems to plants as well.
  • Reducing storm water runoff - This is beneficial to cities by helping to keep costs of water processing down. Less storm water means that the current processing plants will be enough to deal with incoming storm water as cities continue to grow.

Rain barrels have many benefits, but there are a few rules to keep in mind if you are going to use a rain barrel.

  • The water that is collected in a rain barrel is not potable. The water that comes off the roof has the potential to be contaminated with chemicals from the roof, birds, leaf litter, and other sources of bacteria and contaminants.
  • It is best to use this water for non-edible plants. The chemicals that come from your roof have the potential to be taken up by the plants and be a possible source of contaminants for your family.
  • Make sure the barrel is easy to use. Raise the barrel up so that gravity will feed the water to the areas that you need. A valve that is too close to the ground will make it difficult to use the water that you have collected.
  • Have an overflow drain. For most homes, one or two inches of rain will be enough to fill a 50 gallon rain barrel. The same diverter that you buy for your down spouts often has an overflow device that will allow the water to simply continue down the down spout. You can direct the overflow to a rain garden to further reduce the water that goes down the sewer.
  • Service the rain barrel. Be sure to clean the barrel out regularly cleaning any debris out of the barrel. Drain the rain barrel in the fall and make sure that it cannot fill up in the winter, as the freezing and thawing can damage the barrel and its components.

If you have any questions or would like more information about rain barrels, please contact Jason Haupt (jdhaupt@illinois.edu).



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