By Jessica Plassman, Green Events Intern
Rain, rain, go away; come again another day. This oft-cited nursery rhyme speaks volumes about our long-standing relationship with rain water. Like other elements of the natural environment, we have done our best to control rain. And since we cannot control when and where the rain falls, we have developed highly structured systems that make the rain go away. In fact, these storm water drainage systems have been around for so long that many of us probably never consider where all that rain water goes after it hits the ground. This was certainly not something I had ever considered, until recently.
My husband and I bought our first place here in Bloomington almost a year ago. Since we have lived here, the creek situated near our property has flooded and spilled over into the front yards and driveways of lots an eighth of a mile away. The flood waters are so deep that every time there is potential for rain we have to move our cars onto the street. About 8 months after we moved in, the city resolved to fix the problem and added a second culvert to the existing one running under the road. We had high hopes that this would put an end to any flood waters. However, the next big rainfall proved that the additional culvert was not enough to fully mitigate the flooding.
It wasn’t until the second culvert failed to solve the problem that I began to really think about where rainwater goes. As with most natural resources like rainwater, we do not take time to think about them until they become a nuisance. So, if the drainage system “works” we do not question the system. With the case of the nearby creek, I began to consider why the system had failed. So, why does my creek flood?
As a result of industrialization of our towns – roadways, driveways, parking lots, etc. – the natural process of absorption does not occur. According to the EPA, “impervious surfaces…prevent stormwater runoff from naturally soaking into the ground.” In order to quickly whisk the water away, we have developed a modern drainage system of gutters, pipes, and ditches that drive the water into our natural waterways, such as lakes, streams, and creeks (like the one next to my house). While we certainly enjoy our modern way of making water disappear, it has major environmental pitfalls.
The EPA suggests that our current drainage systems are detrimental to the environment and ourselves as a result of the pollution and subsequent water contamination. “Stormwater can pick up debris, chemicals, dirt, and other pollutants and flow into a storm sewer system…anything that enters a storm sewer system is discharged untreated into the waterbodies we use for swimming, fishing, and providing drinking water” (epa.gov). More recent management techniques have been advanced and are influencing how we manage water in Bloomington. As the city website suggests, Bloomington is taking measures to “consider not only volume of storm runoff, but also pollution prevention” (cityblm.org). Beyond city-wide measures, there are things that we can do, as residents, to assuage the negative effects of rain (Rainwater Savers).
The increasingly popular rain barrel has caught my eye on residential properties around my neighborhood of McDoel Gardens and throughout the Bloomington community. The rain barrel is one of the more cost effective ways to use the rainwater in our gardens rather than allowing it to be driven away by the impervious surfaces that constitute much of the ground cover. However, when I went online to purchase a rain barrel, I was shocked by the price (ranging from $50 – $200) – talk about a disincentive!
Then, one day, while browsing pinterest I saw a pin about making your own rain barrel. Courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens (BHG) (and I am sure many others websites too), a step-by-step tutorial exists on how to create your own rain barrel from a garbage can.According to BHG, “Using a rain barrel can save you a significant amount of money in a season. For each inch of rain that falls on 500 square feet of roof, you can collect 300 gallons of water.” And how does that translate? It means that we can prevent water contamination from runoff and we can decrease our water usage to the point where we can water all of the plants in our garden from reclaimed water.
While this trash can may not be as aesthetically pleasing as a brand new rain barrel, there is great potential to save money and resources. Rather than purchasing a new garbage can, you can reuse one of your own or find one at a local recycling center or thrift store. In addition, you could paint the can to blend in with the color of your house or the surrounding garden. Bonus: involve the kids by having them help you paint and install the barrel – what a great opportunity to teach your children about water usage and environmental protection!