Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Conserve Water with a Rain Barrel

Conserve water, save money with rain barrels

From the Jacksonville Daily News

Mother Nature provides Eastern North Carolina with a good 50 inches of rain annually.
“Unfortunately, she is not very good at distributing it well,” said Diana Rashash, an area specialized agent in natural resources and environmental education with Onslow Cooperative Extension.

Despite current drought conditions, building a rain barrel is a great way to take advantage of the water nature gives us when it does rain, she said. And all it takes is a half inch of rain to fill up the standard size rain barrel.

“If we got one inch of rain a week we would never need to water our gardens or lawns; unfortunately it doesn’t happen that way here,” she said. “Last year we were really low (on rain) in September, but the rain we got after that still got us to 54 inches. Rain barrels can collect the rain we do get so during the times it gets really dry you can at least choose — prioritize which plants need watering the most.”

Rain barrels are inexpensive, easy to install and there are several good reasons why one should use a rain barrel, Rashash said.

“A rain barrel collects and stores rainwater from the roof that can be used later for watering plants, washing the car, washing the dog,” she said. “The water collected doesn’t have the chemicals drinking water has, like chlorine, and it is soft water, so it is very good for watering plants and things you don’t need drinking water for. It is silly to use potable water for non-potable uses.”

In addition to salt and chlorine in treated public water, treated water and well water also contain limestone, calcium carbonate, iron and magnesium which make the water hard, said Lisa Rayburn. And a crusty white ring around the top soil of the plant is indicative of salt build up.

“Rain water doesn’t have those things,” she said. “Salt is not good for your plants. Salt will start to build up in the soil and make it harder for plants to grow and it becomes harder for the plants to take the moisture out of the soil. There is very little salt in rainwater. And there are also plants that are particularly sensitive to chlorine — the poinsettia is the first thing that comes to my mind.”

Rain barrels help conserve water and can save money by reducing water bills. Rashash added that there is proposed legislation in North Carolina to reduce per-capita water usage to 100 gallons a day and ultimately reduce it down to 45 gallons a day.

“A rough rule of thumb is for every 100 square feet of roof, a one-inch rain will give you 62 gallons of water — multiply that by 50 inches and you potentially have 3,000 gallons of water from one 10-by-10-foot roof,” Rashash said.

Ready-made rain barrels can be purchased at local hardware stores, but they can also be made from plastic containers.

When obtaining used plastic containers or drums for a rain barrel, be sure the original contents of the container was a food grade product, Rashash said. The majority of the supplies to retrofit a barrel can be obtained at most home improvement, plumbing or hardware stores.

Onslow Cooperative Extension purchased a truckload of empty plastic pickle barrels from Mount Olive to use as rain barrels and taught a class on how to make them in May. There has been enough interest they are taking names and plan to order more barrels and teach another class sometime in July, she said.

Rashash said she mail orders the bulk head fittings from Atlanta Rain Barrel and found the “vent screens” used for the class through an online source as well. But she said bulk head fittings are available at hardware stores and fine screening material can also be purchased and modified for the barrel for those who do not want to use mail ordering.

“With the screens you don’t have to worry about mosquitoes and trash building up in there,” she said.

Peggy Garner, the director of Onslow Cooperative Extension, said that though some containers are not very attractive but can easily be decorated using paint that can be applied to plastic.

“You can decorate it however you want to decorate it and get as artistic as you like,” she said.

Having paid $60 for his first rain barrel, Kenneth Barbee, of Tar Landing, took the class in May and made his own for $35.

“I like to use the rain barrel water because it is so much better for the plants than you get from well water or public water,” he said. “You don’t have all those chemicals — this is a good thing. I have a garden and a small greenhouse … and my wife has plants inside and outside the house, so we wanted another barrel — we have thoroughly enjoyed using it.”

Leon Nichols, of Pony Farm Road, built a rain barrel and purchased a ready-made rain barrel.
“I have a little garden around the house and I’m going to try and use the water from it rather than from my well or the county water,” he said. “I am just trying to conserve and keep economics in mind.”

Another student suggested using rain water for washing cars since you won’t get water spots like the calcium in tap water creates.

Onslow Cooperative Extension will provide assistance to those interested in making their own rain barrel and are accepting calls from those interested in obtaining a rain barrel or attending the next class. They will provide rain barrels as part of the class fee, but they also sell ready-made barrels. For more information or to get on the list for a barrel or the class, call 910-455-5873.

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