Harvesting the rain
Using a rain barrel to collect water is a simple way to
use the power of showers when and where you need it
By Candace Renalls
Duluth News Tribune
Published September 4th, 2004
Growing up in a small Minnesota town in the 1970s, Jesse
Schomberg remembers his parents and grandparents using
rain barrels to collect runoff.
"I remember them being very common then," he
The use of rain barrels fell out of fashion, but now
Schomberg's mother is putting buckets under her gutters
again. And Jesse is joining the growing ranks of gardeners
who are using rain barrels.
"I'm really glad to see this trend," he said.
"It's good for our plants, good for our streams and
our lake, too."
By catching and storing runoff, rain barrels provide
water for gardens as nature intended -- unchlorinated,
and without lime and calcium. Moreover, rain barrels help
reduce polluted runoff into lakes and rivers.
Schomberg, who lives near the North Shore, has recently
set up three rain barrels at his home to catch runoff.
His house's steep-pitched roof forms sharp "Vs"
where rainwater funnels down into the barrels.
After a big rain, he goes out and takes a look at the
"It's worked out great," he said of his system
that doesn't use gutters or downspouts. "We get an
inch of rain and it fills up."
He got his first barrel in July from the city of Superior's
wastewater treatment plant. At $27, which includes the
hardware, it was a bargain. Such kits can retail for more
than $100 elsewhere.
A grant from the Duluth-Superior Community Foundation
has allowed the Superior Wastewater Treatment Plant to
offer the rain barrel kits to area residents for a reduced
fee. The kits include a 55-gallon recycled plastic food
grade barrel and parts to make a rain barrel that can
work with a modified downspout or catch free-falling water
as Schomberg's setup does.
When assembled, it has a spigot near the bottom to attach
a hose, a spigot halfway up for filling watering cans,
an overflow opening near the top and screened louvers
on top where water enters.
Before attending a recent workshop, Robert Trauba of
Superior had been catching rainwater at his lake property
with an open barrel.
"I believe in these very much," Trauba said
as he assembled his rain barrel. "You can use any
barrel, but you don't have the convenience of all these
features, like the spigots."
He likes the features so much, he's planning on getting
Those who buy a kit can put it together on their own
or attend a workshop where staff help them assemble the
rain barrel. With workshops this summer, at least half
of the 250 barrel kits have been given out. Another shipment
of more than 100 barrels for kits is expected next spring.
Schomberg got two barrels from the program and fashioned
a third rain barrel out of a plastic food grade barrel
and parts he had on hand. He has a soaker hose attached
to one rain barrel that waters gardens under his home's
eaves where the soil would otherwise be sandy and dry.
"It takes a couple of days to empty," he said
of a full barrel of water.
Besides providing clean, free water for his gardens,
Schomberg got rain barrels to help reduce the harmful
effects of polluted runoff into Lake Superior.
When stormwater runs over streets and other impervious
surfaces, it becomes polluted with oil, dirt, pet waste,
pesticides, fertilizer, gravel and trash. The polluted
runoff flows into storm drain systems, which can flow
directly into lakes and rivers.
Rain barrels reduce that polluted runoff as well as help
relieve the burden on wastewater treatment facilities
during heavy rains.
At the workshops, research assistant Charlene Johnson
tells participants that major rainfalls of more than an
inch of rain occur, on average, seven days a year in Superior.
And for every inch of water that falls on a 1,000-square-foot
roof area, 600 gallons of water can be collected.
Judy Palen of Duluth had no problem putting together
her rain barrel. She planned to use hers to catch runoff
over the doors and windows of her mobile home. She would
hook the barrel up to an outdoor shower and also use some
of the rainwater for her gardens.
Her daughter, Amy Darker of Superior, also got a rain
barrel. She hopes it will solve her wet basement problem.
"I have a leaky basement," she said. "I'm
trying to dry it off, get the water from seeping in and
divert it away from the house."
Some people, like Milton Radjenovich of Buhl, have been
using rain barrels most of their lives.
Radjenovich, 81, has been using a converted 280-gallon
fuel oil tank and a square 300-gallon steel tank to catch
rainwater runoff for decades.
He has faucets at the bottom of each tank for filling
water jugs. With the water collected from downspouts on
his garage, he waters his entire 21-by-50-foot vegetable
garden every three days or so.
That takes a lot of water and the rain barrels help him
do it in a way that conserves water.
There's another advantage: it keeps his water bills down
in the summer, he says.
CANDACE RENALLS is at (218) 723-5329 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.