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Keeping the Plains

Save water, money with a rain barrel

By Ron Sylvester on 05/11/11 16:46
The Wichita Eagle

We use lots of water, mostly to quench our lawns.

The average household uses 260 gallons of water each day. About a third of that goes to cover our yards.

You can save water and money by making a rain barrel. The Sedgwick County Extension Center will teach you how during a class from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. It will be held in the in the 4-H Hall of the center, 21st and Ridge Road.

Rain barrels attach to the downspouts of your house and collect rain water, which you can then use to water your plants and your yard. Some even say they water their car with the rain water. So you can save that 30 percent of the water bill you pour on the outside.

"Some people say the rain water is better for their plants, because it doesn't have all the chemicals and additives we add so we can drink the water," said Tonya Bronleewe, natural resource extension agent.

Collecting the rain water also keeps storm drainage from picking up fertilizer, chemicals and other harmful materials that wash down our driveways, out on the streets, down the sewers and into the Arkansas River. That's one reason the river often has that lovely brown tint to it. All that stuff also washes back into our drinking water supply.

Diane Dorsch, a master gardener, will teach Saturday's class.

"She's the rain barrel queen," Bronleewe said. "I don't think that's an official title, but that's what I call her."

If you want to actually make a rain barrel, space is limited, and it costs $45 to cover materials. And bring a vehicle big enough to haul it home. But for $5 you can learn and watch how to make one, and there's plenty of space for those wanting to learn.

I made my own, picking up a barrel from a recycling center and spending less than $20 in hardware materials. I followed instructions online provided by the seaside community of Bremerton, Wash. For those visually oriented learners, Better Homes & Gardens provides photo gallery instructions on constructing your rain barrel.

Not handy? You can buy one from businesses such as Wichita Rain Barrels. Owner Peter Daniels said the higher you put the rain barrel, the better the water pressure.

“I’d recommend having it at least 36 inches off the ground,” he said.

Daniels explains more in this video:

Update

That’s just what individuals can do. Larger institutions can also take advantage of cost-cutting, water-saving storm water management practices.

The high school in Peabody (pop. 1,192) is installing an irrigation system which collects storm water. About 40 volunteers will help Texas water conservation specialist Billy Kniffen put in the system at the high school beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Marilyn Jones, an organizer of the local farmers’ market which implemented the plan, said the system will provide water for the school’s garden and its botany program.

Read other columns in this series

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