This past Saturday, (Oct. 12th), I listened to what was probably the last thunderstorm of the season.  Along with some pretty gusty winds was a very heavy rainfall, which I watched roll down the streets towards drains that were already covered with leaf debris.  All that water running into our sewers and eventually out to Lake Michigan, not just waste water but wasted water.  How many times a year do we hear about MMSD (Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District) having to dump the contents of the storm sewers into lake Michigan UNPROCESSED because of a heavy downpour that the sewer system couldn’t handle?  There is a solution, and an easy one.  Install a rain barrel in our yard capturing the roof fun off from your house and/or garage.  This will not only help preserve Lake Michigan, but reduce water pollution (oil, grease, fertilizers) and can also lower your water costs.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, outdoor irrigation can count for up to 40% of water use by households during the summer when rain becomes scarce.  Municipalities often institute mandatory water restrictions, leaving your yard and plants brown and crispy, sometimes with the negative effects lasting into the next summer.  Just one rain barrel can save the average home owner up to 1300 gallons of water during the summer.  With the usual rain barrel being a 55 gallon drum, just ¼ inch of rain can fill it to the top and can be used to water flowers, vegetables, shrubs and trees.

Rainwater being naturally “soft” meaning devoid of chlorine, and other minerals & chemicals found in city water.  It can actually help to improve the health of your garden, it is important to note, however, that it is not suitable for pet or human consumption.  The rain barrel is placed under a shortened downspout placing the barrel on a sturdy platform will allow for more clearance under the spigot (typically at the bottom), and will also increase the rate of flow if you choose to attach a hose to the spigot.  A fine mesh screen should be used to cover any openings to trap debris and prevent mosquitoes from calling the barrel home.  Minor maintenance would include keeping that screen clear of debris and cleaning the inside of the barrel occasionally.  For the winter months, simply drain your barrel, turn it upside down, or store it in your garage and remember to redirect the downspout away from the building’s foundations.

Rain barrels can be purchased from $90-$140 in garden centers, hardware stores, nurseries,or you can buy one from MMSD for about $50.  For people in the Milwaukee area, you can also buy them from Growing Power, Discovery World, Urban Ecology Center, Boerner Botanical Gardens, and Outpost Natural Foods.  So don’t let al that free water go to waste, use it to offer new life to your garden and help save out lakes too.