By August 2013, the Finger Lakes Institute (FLI) at Hobart and William Smith Colleges hopes to have 275 rain barrels installed throughout the Finger Lakes region. The Store the Storm Rain Barrel Program developed from a 2008 environmental stewardship project in which incoming students constructed rain barrels during Orientation. These were then sold to faculty and staff. In 2011, through partnership with the City of Geneva Green Committee, the FLI broadened its audience to include community members constructing rain barrels for their private residence.
A rain barrel is a system that collects and stores rainwater from a roof that would otherwise seep into a basement, be lost to runoff and erosion, or diverted to storm drains, streams and the lake. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a rain barrel can save most homeowners 1,300 gallons of water during peak summer months. The clean, fresh water collected in the rain barrel can be used to water the lawn and garden, clean a pet, wash the car, or top off a swimming pool, thus saving water that a homeowner would usually pay for. The most positive impacts to the natural environment include water conservation and reduced soil erosion.
As a means to create awareness of green infrastructure techniques, the FLI has worked with the Colleges and surrounding community to install rain barrels on campus and private properties to reduce stormwater runoff and overall demand on municipal wastewater treatment. Wastewater treatment plants can have a significant impact on the overall environment by emitting greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere due to the large amount of energy required for aerobic and anaerobic treatment processes. Although the reduction in emissions is indirect, the use of rain barrels reduces volume of water requiring treatment, and therefore decreases the production of GHGs in the water treatment process. Overall, financial costs of water and treatment (likely in municipal taxes and fees) are saved by the homeowner.
The barrels used to make the Store the Storm Rain Barrels are reconditioned food-grade barrels that previously contained barbeque sauce, soy sauce, and other food products. They are 55 gallon UN Rated High Density Polyethylene tight-head drums. According to the Plastic Drum Institute, one plastic barrel is equivalent to 500 beverage bottles, or more than 2,000 plastic grocery bags (Plastic Drum Institute, 2013). By reusing barrels, rather than purchasing new, the FLI is reducing GHG emissions by minimizing the demand for new barrels and reducing the disposal of used barrels into landfills.
The FLI Store the Storm Rain Barrel sales and demonstration workshops identify participants as taking the first step in reducing stormwater runoff and water pollution as well as slowing global warming.
Those interested in purchasing a rain barrel should contact Sarah Meyer, community outreach coordinator at the FLI, at email@example.com. For the current sale, payment is due August 23. Pick up dates are Saturday, August 24, and Sunday, August 25, only in Geneva at the HWS Barn at 172 St. Clair St. For updates on sales (they usually take place in April and August) or information for making your own, visit http://www.hws.edu/fli/projects_green.aspx.
This article originally appeared in the August/September issue of Finger Lakes Woman.