The Benefits of Rain Barrels


During the month of August, visitors to the Monona Farmer’s Market had a chance to purchase rain barrels, sold by The Natural Step Monona on behalf of the local non-profit group Sustain Dane. Many people stopped by our display. Some shared stories of rain barrels already in use at their homes, but the majority of people stopped to ask questions about why a rain barrel would be useful for them.


Rain barrels hold water that has been collected from roofs. This is water that normally runs out the downspout and eventually into the storm sewer. By saving it in rain barrels the water can be used in place of treated tap water, lowering our water bills and reducing urban runoff. It is a free source of water between rainfalls or times of drought.


Since residential irrigation accounts for approximately 40% of domestic water consumption, you can see how stored rain water can ease the need for water demand. Our groundwater is conserved, our community is saved the cost of treating and pumping that water, the useful life of our wells is prolonged, and electricity costs and pollution associated with pumping water from the aquifer is reduced.


Unlike tap water, rain water is free of chlorine, lime and calcium. This naturally soft water is ideal for watering plants in vegetable and flower beds, indoor and outdoor container plants, and can even be used for cleaning household windows and washing cars. (Editor’s note: Make sure not to wash your car in your driveway, please. This just adds to the chemicals, salts, and other debris washing down into the storm sewers and into our lakes. Move your car over lawn before you wash it.)


Other questions asked about the rain barrel systems concerned installation and how the systems work. Sustain Dane has created an ingenious diverter unit that is inserted into an existing downspout. A hose runs from the diverter to the recycled, fifty-five gallon plastic rain barrel. Rain water is collected in the diverter and sent through the hose into the barrel. A large opening in the bottom of the diverter allows debris to pass through the diverter and through the downspout. When the barrel is full (just one-quarter of an inch of rainfall on the average roof will entirely fill one of Sustain Dane’s rain barrels), the excess rain water backs up the hose into the diverter and flows into the downspout.


The diverter has a door on the front for ease of cleanout when necessary. The barrels are sealed so there are no problems with contamination and mosquitoes don’t have access to the water. For winterization, hoses need to be disconnected and the barrels drained. (For more information about the winterization procedure, see Sustain Dane’s website.)


Installing a rain barrel system is quite easy and detailed instructions accompany the system. However, Sustain Dane will install their rain barrels for a small additional fee.


All together, The Natural Step Monona took orders for fifty rain barrels, more than doubling the number of Monona residents who had ordered Sustain Dane rain barrels in years past! Most of these are now installed in yards around Monona. Take a look around, your neighbor may have one!


This effort would not have been possible without the generosity of several member volunteers from The Natural Step Monona. I would like to thank Heather Gates, Sue Carr, Kevin Speight, Ross DePaola, Janine Glaeser, Jessica Ace, Melissa Zietz, Kate Heiber-Cobb, Doug Wood, Bob Miller, Kelty Carew, Steven Jefferies, and Paul and Denise Meyer for being at the Monona Farmers’ Market to answer questions and take orders. Thanks also to Richard Fritz for transporting rain barrels to the market.


Members of The Natural Step Monona will do their part to help our environment again next summer, taking orders for rain barrel at the Monona Farmers’ Market. Please do your part by getting a rain barrel or two of your own in 2009!


For more information on the Sustain Dane rain barrel program, go to



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