Noelle Swan

Newton Residents Find that Rainwater Collection Brings More than Financial Savings

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2010 at 12:46 pm
First published in the Newton TAB on May 24, 2010.
Newton —Newton resident Ellen Meyers loves her rain barrel. She doesn’t know for sure how much money it has saved her. That’s not why she purchased it.

“I just felt so good about using less water,” she said.

Many Massachusetts residents are supplementing their water supply with rainwater collected in barrels. Bypassing the tap means bypassing the need for tanker trucks, processing plants, and treatment chemicals. These processes are vital to filter and deliver water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. But water has many other uses.

Maria Rose, an environmental engineer for the city of Newton, said that residents in dry states like Nevada and New Mexico have long considered rainwater collection a critical aspect of daily life. However, the Northeast typically gets 45 inches of rain a year. Rose sees in this figure, an enormous potential for rainwater harvesting.

From just one inch of rainfall, Rose said, a 1000 square foot roof can capture 623 gallons of water– that’s 15 bathtubs full of water falling on a three-car garage. The larger the roof, the more rain can be collected. The soon-to-be-opened Newton North High School will rely on harvested rainwater to maintain the school’s extensive grounds.

Large-scale rainwater collection systems cannot only irrigate large plots of land, but can be brought indoors. Rainwater running off of the roof can be funneled into underground tanks. Water in these tanks can be pumped into the building where it can supply water for flushing toilets and washing laundry.

While such systems are likely to become cost effective over time, they are expensive to install and can require extensive renovations.

Water conservation need not be so high tech, Rose said. Simple solutions can help to save water, no matter where it comes from. Residents can use soaker hoses with lots of little holes allowing water to bubble out slowly instead of sprinklers and that they make sure they aren’t watering sidewalks, driveways, or the side of the house.

Rainwater collection can also be low tech. The industrious homeowner can craft a rain barrel using a couple of power tools, a handful of parts from the hardware store and a large, plastic barrel.

The city of Newton encourages residents to invest in rain barrels and co-sponsors a group-purchasing program each spring with New England Rain Barrel Company of
Peabody, Massachusetts. The barrel itself, a repurposed food storage container, is a blue, 55-gallon, plastic drum with a top and bottom spigot. The bottom spigot attaches to a garden hose and the top spigot remains open releasing overflow. The system is entirely powered by gravity as rainwater rides down the gutter, into the drum, and flows out the hose.
For homeowners who prefer something to match their patio décor, online options range in price from $75 to $300 and range in style from the unapologetic, plastic drum to the Canadian, spruce cabinet.

Any of these systems requires a certain level of maintenance. Screens and lids keep out some debris and insects. Because it is a tank of standing water, the barrel is an ideal habitat for mosquitoes and bacteria. The New England Rain Barrel Company recommends shading the barrel from direct sunlight and rinsing it out when the water gets low to help reduce algae growth. Application of oil or commercially available “mosquito dunks” can keep the surface waters from turning into a mosquito nursery.

David Gordon of Newton Centre has found that this occasional maintenance is minimal and worth the effort. Water conservation is an important issue to him, both personally and professionally in his organic lawn care business. He says the switch from the tap to rain barrels felt like a reasonable step in the right direction.

“It’s not like I thought it would save the world or anything. It just seemed like the right thing to do,” he said.

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