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Rain Barrels and Rain Gardens Help Reduce Flooding and Manage Stormwater - March 8, 2015

Since the start of the new year, the Eastern shore has had its fair share of rain, sleet and snow. In January alone, most areas experienced more precipitation than usual; Salisbury, Snow Hill and Berlin averaged 4.97 inches of precipitation during the month compared to their historical averages which are around 3.52 inches. All the rain, snow and ice have to go somewhere, and with higher than average levels of precipitation, this can lead to strains on stormwater management systems, flooding and damage to homes and infrastructure. To help reduce the sheer volume of stormwater that enters stormwater management systems, homeowners can install rain barrels and rain gardens; both of which help to mitigate, retain and control stormwater runoff. 

Rain barrels are simple water retention devices attached to your house. A rain barrel usually consists of the main barrel itself, which has a hole drilled in the top of it and covered in a mesh screen so you can attach your houses downspout or gutter system, along with a spout near the bottom of the barrel to allow for hoses to be attached to use stored water. Rain barrels also typically have an overflow system that allows for water to run out of the barrel, should it get to full during major storm events or non-use. There can be other added features, colorful designs or other accoutrement depending on who built or distributed the rain barrels.

Usually, rain barrels are raised above ground level on cinder blocks or similar objects so that gravity can assist in moving the water out of the barrel and through the attached hose. Depending on the size of the rain barrel, they can hold anywhere between 50 to 80 gallons of water, with 50 to 55 gallons being the average size of most homeowners rain barrels. Because of their simple design, several rain barrels can even be linked up together to hold even more water coming from roofs of larger homes or to save more stormwater for watering large gardens or fields. 

Water from rain barrels can be used for any number of outdoor activities including washing cars, watering landscapes, washing down driveways and others. The biggest benefit from rain barrels is that the homeowners essentially gets free water, without putting a strain on municipal or personal water systems. 

On average, 40% of a homeowners water use is outdoors, so installing and using a rain barrel can help to save water during dry, summer months. Just a quarter of an inch of runoff from rain or snow on an average sized roof will easily fill a 50 gallon rain barrel. Most of the eastern shore receives over three inches of precipitation a month on average, so a rain barrel would stay full and ready for use throughout most of the year. 

Because rain barrels collect and hold stormwater runoff, they also help to reduce the amount of stormwater that needs to be handled by stormwater management systems after major storms and similar events. By retaining water in rain barrels and using it over a period of time, we can help to reduce the pressure put on these stormwater management systems and even help reduce flooding in local areas. Another great way to help reduce flooding is to install a rain garden as well as a rain barrel.

A rain garden is usually a garden planted in a slight depression, placed strategically at a low point in the landscape, consisting of layered soil types with native plants to help retain water without creating a pond or open water. A rain garden is placed in an area of the yard where most of the stormwater runoff will flow into the rain garden. The rain garden and the native plants that comprise it, help to collect, absorb and clean the stormwater runoff before it percolates into the groundwater. Apart from cleaning and absorbing stormwater runoff, a rain garden also helps to add aesthetic appeal and provides other benefits as well. 

A rain garden filled with different native plants can survive the major seasonal fluctuations of the coastal bays’ climate, is excellent habitat for local animals and is better adapted to living in partially flooded and wet soils. Native plants also require little to no fertilizers or pesticides because they are already accustomed to our soil composition and pest species, so there is little maintenance.

Both rain gardens and rain barrels are considered to be relatively easy-to-do green infrastructure techniques. Green infrastructure is a building technique that emphasizes using systems and processes found in nature to help improve modern infrastructure, especially in urban and developed areas. Green infrastructure can be greatly varied; from vertical and rooftop gardens to solar powered outdoor lights to living shorelines. Rain gardens and rain barrels are fairly low cost and low maintenance compared to other green infrastructure projects and are much more accessible and easy to install for homeowners. Regardless of the size of your house or yard, the addition of a rain barrel, rain garden, or both, could prove to be extremely beneficial.

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program can provide free, 55 gallon barrels for homeowners interested in making their own rain barrels. Instructions and a list of materials needed are provided by the Maryland Department of the Environment, online at http://mde.maryland.gov/assets/document/water_cons/rainbarrel.pdf. If interested in a free barrel, please contact Sandi Smith, at sandis@mdcoastalbays.org or 410-213-2297 ext 106

 

 

Harrison Jackson is the Coastal Stewards Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.



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