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Bitten by the rain barrel bug

by Drew Ready, Sustainable Claremont board member

Do you have a rain barrel and want to know how to best connect and maintain it? Or maybe you’d like to add one or more additional barrels to your yard? Have you been bitten by more mosquitoes this year?

Read on to learn more, and join Sustainable Claremont on Monday, November 5 for a Sustainability Dialog on the benefits of safe and sustainable rainwater harvesting.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently shared a report that states an increase of above 1.5 degrees Celsius will occur in as soon as 12 years if we don’t drastically reduce carbon emissions. The projected changes that will result as a result of this 1.5 degrees increase will be catastrophic globally, and locally it will make the tree mortality, severe and successive droughts and extreme summer heat that we’ve experienced the last few years look like the good old days.

So how can we create a community that does its part to reduce carbon emissions while becoming more resilient to the impacts of climate change? How can our homes and landscapes conserve resources and generate benefits to offset these climate change impacts? Despite not having all the answers, we encourage you all to join Sustainable Claremont in taking simple steps toward becoming more sustainable.

At Sustainable Claremont’s C. Freeman Allen Resource Center, staff is often asked, “What is the one thing I can do that’ll benefit our community and environment the most?” As much as we wish there was a response that worked for everyone, the answer differs depending on the community member’s current footprint on the environment, what kind of dwelling they inhabit, and what resources and how much free time they have.

As a first step, we typically recommend a good audit of their current impact on the environment. We urge people to use the simple calculator found at myfootprint.org. With a baseline understanding of our ecological footprint, it’s much easier to suggest and prioritize actions.

There are small steps we can all take that can have a significant collective benefit on our local environment. One relatively simple measure is harvesting rainwater. Capturing rain for use in landscapes is an ages-old practice, but lost its appeal here in the United States with the advances of modern water systems, which brought us cheap, clean potable water. This—coupled with stormwater engineering practices that sought to get rainwater into storm drains and flood control channels and out to the ocean as quickly as possible—rainwater was no longer seen as a resource to be conserved.

That paradigm is changing now that we understand just how much energy is used to import water, and with more than half of all water used in homes being applied to landscapes, by collecting rainwater and using it in our yards and gardens, we all can reduce our footprints.

Harvesting rainwater can be accomplished by simply redirecting rain gutters to landscaped areas. Rainwater can also be collected in rain barrels and tanks or, for large properties, in below-ground cisterns. While 55 gallon rain barrels are often criticized for lack of capacity and their own carbon footprints, we think they are a great place to start. Rain barrels are considered the “gateway drug” to sustainable landscaping: who wants to water a lawn and thirsty plants with all that newly collected precious rainwater?

To get a sense of how much rain you can capture off your roof, in an average year when we have around 17 inches of rain, up to 10,000 gallons can be captured for every 1,000 square feet of roof area. A 55-gallon rain barrel won’t collect a lot of water but two barrels connected to every downspout will. If you water your landscape with them between storm events, it makes a big impact. Move up to an 800-gallon rain tank, also called a cistern, and you’ll have a lot more collection and longer-term storage capacity.

Using collected rainwater has multiple benefits. It is great for irrigating lawns and gardens and has a host of other uses such as washing vehicles or cleaning patio furniture. Rainwater is pH neutral and has no ammonia, fluoride, chlorine or other chemicals found in municipal water. Collecting rainwater reduces stormwater runoff that can pick up oils, metals, fertilizer and animal waste, causing our beaches to close after large storms. Keeping some of that water out of the streets will help keep pollutant levels low and protect our streams, rivers and oceans.

 With the right plan, rainwater harvesting can be quite simple and an effective way to begin to mitigate a changing climate. On Monday, November 5 from 7 to 8:30 p.m., Sustainable Claremont is partnering with Rain Barrels Intl. to offer a Rainwater Harvesting Sustainability Dialog held at Room 101, Hahn Building, 420 N. Harvard Ave., Claremont. The dialog will explore the importance of rainwater harvesting, the benefits of planning, installation and maintenance, and current rebates available.

And if you haven’t heard there is a new day-biting mosquito in town and it’s more than a nuisance. It has the potential of being a vector for terrible diseases like West Nile fever, chikungunya, eastern equine encephalitis and the Zika virus. At the Dialog, the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District will share ways to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in rain barrels and on your property.

Before the event, discounted rain barrels are available for purchase at a special price of $65 plus tax, not including a $35 rebate from the Metropolitan Water District for up to two barrels. After the rebate, the cost of each rain barrel is only $30. The Rain Barrels Intl. product regularly sells in stores for $129 to $169. Orders can be made in advance of the Dialog by visiting rainbarrelsintl.com and clicking the “Events” tab. Rain Barrels Intl. reuses food grade barrels, which are cleaned and retrofitted, so you are not only saving water but also recycling a product to give it a second life. It is recommended that you order your barrel early, as supplies may be limited.

Participants in this free talk are not required to purchase a rain barrel. Sustainable Claremont is looking forward to seeing you Monday, November 5.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Several people have asked for additional information on proper rainbarrel set up and controlling mosquitos. A video from Sustainable Claremont's Dialog that took place Nov. 5th that covers these details and more is now available to view at: 

https://youtu.be/MhTV4cvvim8