We are coming up on the four year anniversary of the Floods of 2008, and while much was lost and the destruction still visible, something was also learned. According to a study published on December 28, 2011, rain barrels can be used by citizens to help control rain water run off and thus ease the risk and severity of the flood season. Rich Patterson, director of the Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids states, “every gallon counts. Will one  rain barrel change the course of  nature? Of course not. But would 100,000 barrels make a difference?  Most definitely.”

Harvesting Rain Water

One inch of rain pours about 500 gallons of water on an average 2,000 square foot home. 500 gallons! Besides mitigating flooding, what else can a rain barrel be good for? Easy. It’s great for watering your lawn and flower beds, rinsing off patio furniture or the grill, washing the car, the list goes on. It won’t be potable water, obviously, so you probably don’t want to use it to fill the swimming pool or hot tub, but you get the idea. If you wanted to really go all out and use rain water in the home, for example flushing toilets, you would need a cistern to help hold all that rain water. These are more expensive, up to $2,500, and can hold anywhere from 300 to 3,000 gallons.

By using the harvested rain water for your yard and plants, you can save about $35 from your water bill over the course of a summer. There are inexpensive ways to make rain barrels with parts from the hardware store such as spigots, downspout extensions and elbows, mesh screens, and hoses costing around $35, or they are available commercially for as little as $75—$100. In just a few years the cost has been recovered and you’ve done your part to help manage rain water.

Protecting your Water

Rain barrels aren’t unlike any other vat of sitting water. Algea can grow and mosquitoes would enjoy the breeding ground, especially during the hot Iowa summers. Be sure to keep your barrel covered, not only to keep out mosquitoes but other pests, children, and pets. A few capfuls of bleach can keep algae at bay, but it may be necessary to drain and scrub the inside of your barrel from time to time.

Have more questions about rain barrels? Contact Cedar Rapids’ Indian Creek Nature Center. Have questions about finding a different roof to collect all that rain? Contact me!