① Where does our Water go?
All of the water we use inside our homes goes directly to the sanitary sewer system to a treatment plant where it is cleaned and released into our streams. If you live in a more rural area, this water is treated and disbursed by your septic system.
How about the water from our yards, driveways, roads, ditches, and parking lots? Where does this water go? It is not always easy to see after it goes down the storm drain, but the rainwater that falls in our yard eventually flows directly into a stream or lake.
② Why is what I do on my Property Important?
As cities and suburbs grow and replace forests and open space, increased stormwater runoff from our rooftops, driveways, and roads become a problem. Stormwater runoff from developed areas can increase flooding, pollute our streams, and lead to costly community improvements in stormwater treatment structures, such as storm sewer pipes and ponds.
The initial pulse of stormwater from a rain event contains the highest level of pollutants and gets sent directly into our streams and waterways without going to a treatment plant first. This pulse is often referred to as the “first flush”. If each individual property can slow down and remove pollutants from this first flush of stormwater, our streams, lakes, will be healthier and our local communities can save money by lowering infrastructure development and maintenance costs.
- Increasing the amount of water that soaks into the ground, recharging aquifers and groundwater-fed streams
- Safeguarding communities from flooding and drainage problems
- Protecting streams and lakes from pollutants carried by urban stormwater
- Enhancing the beauty of yards and neighborhoods, and
- Providing habitat for birds, butterflies, and many beneficial insects
③ Disconnecting your Downspouts
One of the best practices you can do to help manage stormwater on your property is to disconnect your downspout and divert the water off your roof and gutter to a rain garden, rain barrel, or your existing landscaping. Downspout disconnection keeps excess water out of the storm system. During a heavy storm, each downspout on your home can deliver as much as 12 gallons a minute to your community’s storm system, which can consist of storm sewers and roadside ditches. All of this excess water entering the storm system can cause flooding and streambank erosion.
There are several items that you should consider before disconnecting your downspouts:
- Do have a natural area or lawn that the water can flow safely across and not cause water to flow onto your neighbor's property?
- Can you have the downspout outlet direct water at least 2 feet from your basement or a foundation wall so you do not cause water problems at your own house?
- Splash block or other erosion control measures should be used at the end of the downspout to ensure discharge is distributed as sheet flow away from the building.
- Water from downspouts should not flow onto a street or sidewalks where it can create icy conditions.
- Some communities have regulations about how or where you can disconnect your downspout, so be sure to check your local codes.
This downspout disconnection manual from the City of Portland, Oregon shows you the simple steps and explains why this form of stormwater management is more than just disconnection.
④ Rain Barrels
Installing a rain barrel or cistern on your property can capture stormwater for future use and reduce the amount of stormwater runoff that ends up in our streams. A rain barrel can be fitted to your existing downspout and typically holds about 50 gallons of water.
Using water stored from your rain barrel can potentially save about 1,300 gallons of municipal water during peak summer months, which places less stress on municipal water supplies and saves you money on your water bill! Rain barrels are inexpensive, easy to install and easy to operate and maintain.
Common Rain Barrel Questions
- What can I use rain barrel water for?
Water from your rain barrel can be used to water your outdoor landscaping and lawn, or indoor non-edible plants. It is not drinkable water, but you can use it to water your vegetable garden, lawn, landscaping, or even to wash your car, bikes, and lawn furniture.
- What happens if my rain barrel overflows?
You can fit your rain barrel with either an overflow hose adapter or a diverter kit to connect it to your downspouts. The overflow hose adapter can attach to a garden hose so when the barrel fills, the overflow can be directed to a rain garden or other landscaping in your yard. Diverter kits are installed on the downspout and can divert the rainwater down the gutter into the storm sewer as it would be without the rain barrel being there. Diverters can sometimes be used in communities that prohibit downspout disconnections since it doesn’t actually disconnect the gutter from the storm sewer system, and are also useful for safely winterizing your rain barrel so water doesn’t collect in the barrel and freeze.
- What about mosquitoes in my rain barrel?
Installing a rain barrel with a screen or lid on top will help prevent mosquitoes from getting inside your barrel. Most mosquito species need about 7-12 days of standing water to complete their development cycle, so a good rule of thumb is to keep water standing in your barrel no longer than a week to eliminate mosquito concerns. As an additional precaution, you can float a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil on the surface of the water in the barrel, which will suffocate any mosquito larvae that hatch. Vegetable oil will not harm your plants and is a safe, natural alternative to pesticides.
- My roof is so small. Is it even worthwhile for me to think about a rain barrel?
Definitely! It is estimated that for an 800 square foot roof area draining to one downspout gutter, 500 gallons of water will come off that part of the roof in a 1-inch rainstorm. If enough people in one neighborhood install rain barrels, that translates to significant reductions in flooding and water pollution within your community. Every bit counts!
- What do I do with my rain barrel in the winter?
Ensure that the barrel is emptied and disconnected from the downspout during the winter unless you have a diverter installed that you can use to allow all the water to go down the downspout. During the winter, either store your rain barrel indoors or turn it upside down or cover it tightly to ensure water does not accumulate in the barrel, freeze, and damage your rain barrel.
- Where can I get a rain barrel?
Ready-made rain barrels can be purchased from local suppliers or online (click here for more information). For a less expensive option that also teaches you all about rain barrels, you can attend a rain barrel workshop hosted by a local county Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and build your own barrel!
- What does a rain barrel look like?
Ready-made rain barrels come in a variety of shapes, colors, and designs. Some have planters so you can plant bright flowers from your garden into them. Garden suppliers have planters that resemble rock, terra cotta urns, or wooden casks. but homemade barrels are most often made from food-grade 55-gallon plastic drums.
You could hide your rain barrel behind existing landscaping in your yard, or construct a trellis or ornamental fence around it. For an easy, inexpensive fix, you can lightly sand then prime and paint your rain barrel with any kind of acrylic paint or outdoor spray paint to blend in with your home and existing landscaping. After the paint dries, apply a coat or two of polyurethane to seal and protect the paint.
If you’d like a more artistic touch, some of our local SWCDs have yearly rain barrel auctions where you can bid on beautifully painted rain barrels by local artists.