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READY for Action

As a part of my intern­ship for the Howard County Executive’s Office, I was for­tu­nate enough to work with the amaz­ing peo­ple in Restor­ing the Envi­ron­ment and Devel­op­ing Youth (READY). When I was first asked to vol­un­teer for the pro­gram at the begin­ning of the sum­mer, I was uncer­tain of what to expect. Dur­ing my sum­mer intern­ship, I had become very famil­iar with rain gar­dens and their unique pur­pose of slow­ing down and fil­ter­ing stormwa­ter runoff. I trav­eled the county tak­ing numer­ous pic­tures of rain gar­dens and ana­lyz­ing other best man­age­ment prac­tices. Then after hear­ing so many rav­ing reviews about the READY pro­gram and the beau­ti­ful rain gar­dens they build, I knew that I needed to expe­ri­ence the process firsthand.

For the record, I must say that I am not a gar­dener or fan of hard labor by any means. So I was ini­tially appre­hen­sive when I made plans to work with READY at St. Paul’s church in Mount Airy in the hot August heat. How­ever, when I arrived I was pre­pared to work and help in any way that I could. As we shov­eled, raked, and mulched, I got the chance to meet some of the other youth employees.

It was excit­ing to meet other peo­ple my own age while also build­ing some­thing that would ben­e­fit the entire com­mu­nity. When I asked the READY sum­mer work­ers why they liked work­ing for the pro­gram, nearly all of them said it was because of the qual­ity of peo­ple. I could tell that every­one knew how to have fun, but they were also hard­work­ing and ded­i­cated to the job.

Over­all, I am glad that I got to vol­un­teer with READY and help cre­ate a beau­ti­ful rain gar­den from basi­cally noth­ing. I have a much greater appre­ci­a­tion for the pro­gram and the amount of work these peo­ple put in every day. The READY pro­gram should be applauded and admired for their effort and con­tri­bu­tion to Howard County.

Arlyn­nell Dickson
Howard County Exec­u­tive Intern
Octo­ber 2014

Backyard Art

Ireland stream

Ireland streamA few weeks back I had the good for­tune to visit Ire­land for the first time. What I heard was true, the scenery was spec­tac­u­lar. While I cer­tainly got my fill of rolling coun­try, stone walls, and hill­top cas­tles; being a stream guy, I have to admit I was in awe of the pris­tine, text book exam­ples of healthy streams through­out Ire­land — veg­e­tated banks, acces­si­ble flood plain, rif­fles and pools; all indi­ca­tors of a stream in the prime of its life. The water was crys­tal clear and the bot­tom rocks were free of sed­i­ment — signs that the macro inver­te­brate pop­u­la­tion (bugs) was plen­ti­ful. These bugs, the food sup­ply for fish, were the rea­son we fre­quently saw fly– fish­er­man wad­ing in the water in search of their evening meal. Yes, some trav­el­ers are taken by archi­tec­ture, oth­ers by art, but me, I look for the won­der of nature in these far­away places.

Yes, vaca­tions are a great escape, but we do not need to travel across the Atlantic to catch a glimpse of a good look­ing, healthy stream. We have them right here in Howard County. The major­ity of us live within 1,000 feet of a stream. While we have many good qual­ity streams scat­tered about the county, oth­ers suf­fer from the effects of stormwa­ter runoff with eroded banks, silted bot­toms and con­stricted flood­plain. Streams are liv­ing sys­tems and even the unhealthy ones can recover with our help. How­ever, we first have to find them in our back­yards and under­stand their con­di­tion. Then we can cham­pion their protection.

To help iden­tify your nearby stream we have devel­oped a Stream Finder com­puter appli­ca­tion. All you need to do is enter your street and house address and the map will locate a stream within walk­ing dis­tance from your prop­erty. The map will also iden­tify the name of the water­shed where you live. Try it out: http://data.howardcountymd.gov/GStreamFinder/GStreamFinder.asp. Hope­fully you will find a great exam­ple of a healthy stream near you. If not, work­ing together we can begin to bring that stream back to health.

Wouldn’t it be great to think that Irish vis­i­tors to our area would go home and write about our beau­ti­ful streams and their role in the build­ing a healthy Chesa­peake Bay watershed?

Jim Cald­well
August 2014

Workin’ at the Car Wash

It’s hot, it’s dusty, it’s per­fect weather to get out there and wash your car! But think about this before you suds up your lovely vehi­cle: where does all of the dirt, oil, and soap from your car go after you wash it?

….Are you stumped?

It gets dumped down a storm drain. Why does that mat­ter? Because, unlike the water that you flush down the toi­let, water that’s swept into a storm drain isn’t treated before it emp­ties into a local stream or river. Now, all of the things you didn’t want on your car are in a local water body. This often includes met­als, nutri­ents, and hydrocarbons—all things that we shouldn’t be putting in our streams. So what should you do with your dirty car? We aren’t anti-car wash­ing in gen­eral, but there are some more stream-friendly ways to do it. Con­sider doing any of these:

  • Use a com­mer­cial car wash.

Com­mer­cial car washes either treat their water before dis­charg­ing it to the sewer sys­tem (where it will be fur­ther treated) or recy­cle their water, depend­ing on state and local requirements.

  • Wash your car on grass, gravel, or a per­me­able surface.

This way, pol­lu­tants can be par­tially fil­tered out before reach­ing the water table.

  • If you’re host­ing a car­wash as a fundraiser, block off the stor­mdrain or catch runoff with an insert.
  • Use biodegrad­able soaps.

These small steps can make a big impact. Accord­ing to stud­ies cited by the US EPA, 73% of peo­ple sur­veyed washed their own cars and allowed their wash-water to drain to pave­ment. Help us chip away at this 73% by tak­ing the actions above and encour­ag­ing your friends and neigh­bors to do the same.

Rachel Beebe
July 2014

 

The Rain Facts

Over the last year, while the 10 largest Mary­land juris­dic­tions were devel­op­ing fund­ing pro­grams to ensure the main­te­nance and improve­ment of stormwa­ter infra­struc­ture, a small, but vocal oppo­si­tion referred to this effort as the “rain tax”. This catchy lit­tle phrase led to some inter­est­ing sound bites, such as: “Tax the rain? Next it will be the air we breathe.” or “Mary­land taxes any­thing that moves.” Here’s my favorite, from the Gov­er­nor of Texas, “In Mary­land they tax rain, in Texas we pray for rain”. Well, there is another side to this nar­ra­tive. It’s not the rain but the runoff that is the cul­prit here.

In sim­ple terms, rain falls from the sky– end of story. On the other hand, runoff hap­pens when rain can­not soak into the ground– and the prob­lems begin. Runoff starts to flow across the land and along the way col­lects var­i­ous types of pol­lu­tion like fer­til­izer, sed­i­ment, pet waste and lit­ter. This runoff cock­tail, if not man­aged, will find the short­est path to a low lying creek, stream or river. Once there, the pol­luted runoff causes ero­sion and degrades the qual­ity of our rivers and the Chesa­peake Bay. It is runoff, not rain that neces­si­tates the fund­ing of a util­ity to main­tain, repair and improve our stormwa­ter infra­struc­ture. It is this infra­struc­ture that in turn pro­tects our water resources for the future.

So it seems pretty clear, this is not a case of the gov­ern­ment tax­ing the rain, but instead a case of runoff tax­ing the environment.

Jim Cald­well
Jan­u­ary 2014

Good Stormwater Management, Like Good Schools, is a Community Effort

Here in Howard County we have a great school sys­tem, well funded and rec­og­nized as one of the best in the coun­try. Peo­ple set­tle here because of the qual­ity of our schools. Long ago as a com­mu­nity we com­mit­ted to pay for good schools. We spend more than half of every tax dol­lar to fund our schools and as a result our chil­dren ben­e­fit from a first rate edu­ca­tion. We all pay for our edu­ca­tion sys­tem whether we have kids or not, whether they are of school age or not. Why? — Because we value edu­ca­tion as a key aspect of our qual­ity of life.

As a county and state, we also show a strong alle­giance to the Chesa­peake Bay. In sur­vey after sur­vey we con­sider it a key aspect of our qual­ity of life and sup­port bay pro­tec­tion pro­grams. The real­ity is that we have not been good envi­ron­men­tal stew­ards over the last 200 years and we now need to pay to repair or improve the man­ner in which we treat stormwa­ter, to min­i­mize the effect on our local streams and the Bay. Unfor­tu­nately the funds avail­able through exist­ing sources have been allo­cated else­where and there is not enough left to address this for­got­ten utility.

Stormwa­ter pol­lu­tion is the largest grow­ing source of con­t­a­m­i­na­tion to our local streams and the Bay. The runoff from our rooftops, dri­ve­ways, park­ing lots, and road­ways is the source of the prob­lem. Yes, we could nit­pick about who has a larger role in the prob­lem but the real­ity is that we all con­tribute and just like edu­ca­tion, we all need to be will­ing to pay an equi­table amount for the ben­e­fit of the com­mu­nity and envi­ron­ment we all share.

For the lat­est Howard County stormwa­ter infor­ma­tion, please visit cleanwaterhoward.com.

Jim Cald­well
June 2013

Stormwater Management and the Thanksgiving Feast

For many years, I guest lec­tured in a course enti­tled “The Pol­i­tics of Con­ser­va­tion”. My role was to describe the local gov­ern­ment envi­ron­men­tal agenda to a class of under­grad­u­ates who, like most aver­age folks, were pretty naïve as to the work­ings of gov­ern­ment in gen­eral. Yet, know­ing the impor­tance of the how and why we at the local level con­duct our busi­ness, I always started my lec­ture by describ­ing the three dis­tinct lev­els of gov­ern­ment. To do that, I used a metaphor that revolved around the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day. So as we all make final prepa­ra­tions to cel­e­brate Thanks­giv­ing, and like­wise begin to address some sig­nif­i­cant envi­ron­men­tal man­dates, I fig­ure this is a great time to share my metaphor with you.

You see, it all starts in Wash­ing­ton DC with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment decid­ing that the US should have a new hol­i­day, called Thanks­giv­ing, and cel­e­brated by a feast. Con­gress passes leg­is­la­tion to that affect and just– like– that, the cit­i­zens of the US have a new hol­i­day and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment moves on to the next press­ing issue.

Thanks­giv­ing then enters the realm of state gov­ern­ment. This tier of law­mak­ers decides the feast will con­sist of a turkey, cran­berry sauce, a veg­etable (which could vary from state to state), plenty of mashed pota­toes and of course pump­kin pie for desert. The state folks go fur­ther to cod­ify the recipe in leg­is­la­tion, and then imple­ment a per­mit pro­gram to cer­tify who within their juris­dic­tion has the knowl­edge and capac­ity to actu­ally make this feast happen.

Now we have the hol­i­day, a menu, and the per­mit sys­tem in place that assures a splen­did time for all. It is time for local gov­ern­ment to enter the fray. The leg­isla­tive specifics of the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day trickle down to those man­ag­ing pro­grams at the local gov­ern­ment level. This is where the rub­ber meets the road. To that end, it is the local gov­ern­ment that goes gro­cery shop­ping, cooks the meal, serves the meal, cleans up after the meal, and pays for everything.

Yes I know, not totally accu­rate; but the point is made. Local gov­ern­ment has a lot of work to do, much of it defined by oth­ers who are dis­tant to our needs, issues and finan­cial capa­bil­i­ties. While many of the man­dates defined by the wis­dom of our fed­eral and state part­ners are wor­thy endeav­ors, imple­men­ta­tion is always a chal­lenge. But, find­ing the funds to accom­plish these man­dates is the biggest chal­lenge which is all too often passed from fed­eral through state and on to local government.

Address­ing imple­men­ta­tion strate­gies and fund­ing options to man­age stormwa­ter runoff is just one of the many pro­gram chal­lenges we face as local gov­ern­ment mangers here in Howard County. We under­stand the prob­lem, we are aware of many solu­tions, yet we strug­gle to meet the per­mit time­lines and the cost of com­pli­ance defined by fed­eral and state mandates.

So, if you are the hosts of the Thanks­giv­ing feast this year imag­ine for a moment you are a local gov­ern­ment striv­ing to meet the mul­ti­ple chal­lenges of serv­ing your con­stituents. If, on the other hand, you are for­tu­nate to be a guest at the table think like a con­cerned res­i­dent and chip in to help by set­ting the table, serv­ing the meal, or doing the dishes. After all, Thanks­giv­ing is about work­ing together to enjoy a good meal and a good time with friends and family.

Sim­i­larly, when it comes to man­ag­ing our stormwa­ter runoff pol­lu­tion, we all need to chip in and help with our time, effort and money to improve our water qual­ity and in turn the Chesa­peake Bay.

Happy Thanks­giv­ing!

Jim Cald­well
Novem­ber 2012

Extra Extra Read All About It

You know a story is sig­nif­i­cant when it makes the front page of the Wash­ing­ton Post — above the fold. Must admit, I never thought I would see a news story about stormwa­ter placed so promi­nently, despite the fact that stormwa­ter runoff is the largest grow­ing source of pol­lu­tion to our streams and the Chesa­peake Bay. But, on July 16, there it was. The Post head­line read; “Heat has upside: less bay pol­lu­tion –Dry, warm months reduce runoff, mean­ing smaller ‘dead zone’.” It is sad to think the weather that wreaks havoc on our veg­etable gar­dens and gen­eral com­fort here in the Mid– Atlantic could actu­ally improve the health of the Bay.

No rain, no runoff, no pol­lu­tion, no dead zone. Sounds good, but don’t get your hopes up that this desert-like weather could be the solu­tion in our strug­gle to save the Bay. Nope, it won’t work in the long run because with­out the rou­tine recharge of fresh water runoff from the rain, the salty ocean water will creep fur­ther up the Bay and dev­as­tate the aquatic life that thrive in the reduced salin­ity lev­els found in a healthy bay.

While desert-like weather is clearly not the answer for the Bay, it does point to the real solu­tion. If a lack of pol­luted stormwa­ter runoff leads to tem­po­rary improve­ments (until the fish and crabs choke on salty water), just imag­ine the impact of rain runoff that is free of the pes­ti­cides, oil, fer­til­iz­ers, ani­mal waste, and all the other prod­ucts that we allow to be washed off our land and into our streams and even­tu­ally into the Bay.

Build­ing rain gar­dens, restor­ing stream banks, plant­ing stream buffers, and reduc­ing sur­faces that pre­vent water from soak­ing into the ground all serve to reduce pol­luted stormwa­ter from reach­ing our streams and Bay – at a sig­nif­i­cant cost. How­ever, all our Bay restora­tion efforts could be more effec­tive — at no cost — if we would just clean up after our­selves — our cars, our pets, and min­i­mize our use of fer­til­izer. It is really rather sim­ple. Don’t leave these pol­lu­tants lying around to be car­ried away by stormwa­ter in the first place.

Desert weather will not restore our streams and the Bay. We need rain and runoff for a healthy estu­ary. What we don’t need is pol­luted runoff. Clearly this is in our power to control.

Now that’s front page news.

Jim Cald­well
August 2012

The orig­i­nal arti­cle Jim ref­er­enced is avail­able to Wash­ing­ton Post sub­scribers, or you can set up a trial mem­ber­ship and see it here:

http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-33234696.html

A very sim­i­lar arti­cle ran in the Wash­ing­ton Post Health & Sci­ence sec­tion, and you can read that online at this link:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/sauna-like-heat-low-rain-help-keep-chesapeake-bay-clean/2012/07/15/gJQA18WGnW_story.html

 


The Stormwater Challenge in Ellicott City

The Pat­ap­sco River and Elli­cott City share the best of times and the worst of times. The river pow­ered the Elli­cott Broth­ers’ mill which spawned the city’s growth and pros­per­ity in the late 1700’s and beyond. That same river, how­ever, peri­od­i­cally brings the city despair. Flood waters rav­aged the his­toric town many times over the last two cen­turies includ­ing major events in 1868, 1952, Agnes in 1972 and Eloise in 1975. As the city grew so did rooftops, side­walks, roads and park­ing lots. All these imper­vi­ous sur­faces cre­ate more storm runoff and greater flood­ing poten­tial. Now, the prob­lem not only comes from the Pat­ap­sco over­flow­ing its banks. As we learned with Trop­i­cal storm Lee this past fall, upstream storm drains and Tiber Creek can­not always chan­nel the rain water rush­ing to the Pat­ap­sco — and the streets them­selves become rivers.

Stormwa­ter man­age­ment in gen­eral is a big chal­lenge as fed­eral and state man­dates to con­trol both the vol­ume and qual­ity of storm runoff con­tinue to get more and more strin­gent. His­toric Elli­cott City presents an even greater stormwa­ter chal­lenge con­sid­er­ing the town’s age, amount of imper­vi­ous area, steep slopes, low point in the water­shed and lack of open space to man­age runoff with con­ven­tional designs. By now we all know there is no sil­ver bul­let and the solu­tion must lie in a series of projects, some of which cor­rect exist­ing prob­lems and oth­ers that focus on new controls.

First we face the chal­lenge of keep­ing the chan­nels and the creeks run­ning through the town free of storm debris. County main­te­nance staff, area res­i­dents and the Pat­ap­sco Her­itage Green­way vol­un­teers were instru­men­tal in remov­ing debris fol­low­ing trop­i­cal storm Lee. Yet, as each new storm comes, the poten­tial for more debris dams and chan­nel block­age exists. This requires that we keep a con­stant vigil to locate and address these prob­lems. Debris removal can get a bit com­pli­cated at times due to the issues of pub­lic ver­sus pri­vate prop­erty, but work­ing together we can keep the chan­nel as free mov­ing as pos­si­ble — con­sid­er­ing the twists and turns inher­ent in the densely devel­oped Tiber/Hudson tributary.

Sec­ond, there are long-term engi­neer­ing projects get­ting under­way to assess poten­tial bot­tle necks in the water­ways. Work­ing with the res­i­dents of the area who know first­hand where the prob­lems develop, we will define ways to remove or reduce these choke points through chan­nel or struc­ture mod­i­fi­ca­tions. Like all engi­neer­ing solu­tions this will take time and it is antic­i­pated that actual con­struc­tion may be a few years away. These stud­ies will focus on areas upstream of the main street busi­ness dis­trict in hopes of con­trol­ling runoff before it gains momen­tum head­ing for the Pat­ap­sco. Of course, dur­ing plan­ning and design if we iden­tify any quick fixes we will address them in a timely manner.

The key to good stormwa­ter man­age­ment is to get the rain water back into the ground as close to where is falls thereby reduc­ing the tor­rents that run to the near­est stream and in worst case over­flow that chan­nel caus­ing floods. Find­ing open land for infil­tra­tion in an area that is so densely cov­ered with homes and asphalt is a chal­lenge. But it can be done. Just last month we held a day-long design round table with a group of engi­neers who spe­cial­ize in inno­v­a­tive stormwa­ter designs for urban areas. While these projects will not stop flood­ing, they will help reduce the vol­ume of water run­ning to streams and serve to reduce the ini­tial runoff surge. We are excited by some of the designs sug­gested dur­ing our round table and hope to soon add some of these con­cepts to our over­all strat­egy to man­age stormwa­ter in the his­toric area.

As noted ear­lier, there is no sil­ver bul­let that will address the poten­tial for flood­ing in the Elli­cott City area. Unfor­tu­nately, flood­ing dur­ing big storms is part of the community’s his­tory. While we have made some progress in man­ag­ing flows over the years, it is clear to every­one that we have a ways to go in pro­tect­ing the wel­fare of the com­mu­nity and the qual­ity of our resources in the area. Be assured that this is a pri­or­ity of Howard County. How­ever, to reach our goal we will need to work together and rec­og­nize the unique chal­lenge cre­ated by this his­toric area.

Jim Cald­well
June 2012

The Forgotten Utility

Could you imag­ine if the water sup­plied to your house, or the waste­water leav­ing your house was treated, trans­mit­ted and avail­able for unlim­ited use with­out a charge? Like­wise, think about the elec­tric­ity that pow­ers all those appli­ances and gad­gets through­out your home. What if it was pro­vided at no cost? Fat chance you say — and you are right. We have long rec­og­nized that the infra­struc­ture vital to our way of life can­not be effec­tive, reli­able, and … free. We accept that there is a con­stant need for main­te­nance, repair, new equip­ment, expanded ser­vice, envi­ron­men­tal con­trols, and some admin­is­tra­tion to keep con­nec­tions, accounts and ser­vice needs under con­trol. We under­stand that for every cubic foot of water used or waste­water dis­charged, and every kWH of elec­tric­ity con­sumed that we must pay a user fee to cover the cost of ser­vice pro­vided by these infra­struc­ture utilities.

There is an addi­tional infra­struc­ture sys­tem wind­ing through­out our com­mu­nity pro­vid­ing yet another vital ser­vice toward our safety and envi­ron­ment pro­tec­tion. I call it the for­got­ten util­ity. This infra­struc­ture fre­quently sits with lit­tle to do, but when called into action at a moment’s notice it is expected to func­tion flaw­lessly, deal­ing with the unpre­dictabil­ity of Mother Nature. I am refer­ring to the stormwa­ter infra­struc­ture of Howard County – the for­got­ten utility.

Stormwa­ter infra­struc­ture is a key aspect of our com­mu­nity design and has been built into con­struc­tion projects for many years. Ini­tially the designs focused on get­ting water off the roads. More recently, the designs have expanded to a sys­tem that moves water off all imper­vi­ous areas in a man­ner that also pro­tects our water­ways from ero­sion and pol­lu­tion. This is a tall order for a com­mu­nity with almost 19,000 acres of imper­vi­ous sur­faces includ­ing rooftops, park­ing lots, dri­ve­ways and side­walks. To put it in per­spec­tive, our stormwa­ter infra­struc­ture includes over 4,800 facil­i­ties (ponds, sep­a­ra­tors, bio-swales, rain gar­dens) all of which must be inspected by the county along with the main­te­nance of about 1,600 facil­i­ties (the remain­der are under pri­vate main­te­nance agree­ments) . There are 23,000 inlets and no doubt a sim­i­lar num­ber of out­falls to be main­tained. There are over 700 miles of stormwa­ter con­veyance pipe in the ground in addi­tion to road­side ditches that con­vey stormwa­ter along the 1,000 miles of road­way in the County.

All together our stormwa­ter infra­struc­ture rep­re­sents an invest­ment of over $660 mil­lion. This infra­struc­ture needs rou­tine main­te­nance to ensure proper func­tion­ing of the var­i­ous facil­i­ties. Fur­ther, since we now know that urban stormwa­ter runoff is respon­si­ble for over 20% of the pol­lu­tion to the Chesa­peake Bay, this infra­struc­ture and its main­te­nance become vital in our col­lec­tive efforts to save the Bay.

Unfor­tu­nately, as the for­got­ten util­ity, there is no ded­i­cated source of funds to per­form rou­tine inspec­tion and main­te­nance, no less to ini­ti­ate any sys­tem upgrades to bet­ter man­age runoff and thereby min­i­mize the neg­a­tive impact of stormwa­ter on our creeks, rivers and the Bay. With­out a ded­i­cated util­ity, the stormwa­ter infra­struc­ture must com­pete for finan­cial need with all other gen­eral gov­ern­ment pro­grams. We are not alone in this dilemma. In Mary­land, only Mont­gomery County and a few cities have a stormwa­ter util­ity fee set up to man­age stormwa­ter infrastructure.

But it looks like stormwa­ter man­age­ment is about get some recog­ni­tion. Late last year, Howard County began work­ing with a con­sul­tant to explore the fea­si­bil­ity of a stormwa­ter util­ity. Just as a water util­ity billing on the vol­ume of water sup­plied, or a power util­ity billing based on the amount of elec­tric­ity used, a stormwa­ter util­ity would bill based on the amount of imper­vi­ous area on a par­cel — since it is this imper­vi­ous ground cover that causes runoff. Also, like the other util­i­ties that reward con­ser­va­tion with reduced charges, a stormwa­ter util­ity may pro­vide fee relief if areas of imper­vi­ous cover are reduced and/or addi­tional runoff con­trols are added. At the end of the state leg­isla­tive ses­sion, a bill was passed requir­ing 10 Mary­land coun­ties, Howard included, to estab­lish a stormwa­ter reme­di­a­tion fee. Our study puts us ahead of the curve on this man­date. We will be ready when the com­pli­ance date comes around in July 2013.

So funds are com­ing that will help min­i­mize flood­ing due to clogs, bro­ken pipes, or dredg­ing needs; and to guar­an­tee the con­struc­tion of new sys­tems to improve water qual­ity in our streams and the Bay. The for­got­ten util­ity is about join the ranks of other self-supporting infra­struc­ture util­i­ties. I say it is about time.

Jim Cald­well
April 2012

Rain, rain go away…. Oh wait, not until you fill my rain barrel!

Prior to installing my rain bar­rel, rainy days went unap­pre­ci­ated. As a kid, rain meant I couldn’t run around in the yard. As an adult it meant I had to schlep my umbrella, get my shoes wet, and likely spend the day with frizzy hair.

Luck­ily for me and my joy of sim­ple plea­sures, I was home the first time it rained after installing the bar­rel. I jumped out of bed, tossed on my rain coat and rub­ber boots (not a good look with paja­mas) and stood in the yard grin­ning as it filled higher and higher. As it began over­flow­ing after only 20 min­utes of rain, I exclaimed “Wow! I need a sec­ond one! And a third one!” I can only hope the neigh­bors got as much enjoy­ment out of watch­ing me stand­ing in the rain star­ing at the 55 gal­lon white bar­rel as I got out of the idea of all the water I could save when water­ing my plants. And in fact, they proved to not only be enter­tained by me, but also by the idea of sav­ing their own water. After about a year of watch­ing me as the guinea pig, and ask­ing many ques­tions about “that big white thing,” rain bar­rels started pop­ping up in my neigh­bors’ yards, too. Some got them from the Green­Fest work­shops, oth­ers from the Soil Con­ser­va­tion Dis­trict, and one even from the local chain hard­ware store.

Rain bar­rels help a small amount with stormwa­ter runoff, reduc­ing the amount of rain that runs across your grass col­lect­ing pet waste and fer­til­iz­ers and into the near­est stream. Mostly they serve the won­der­ful pur­pose of con­serv­ing treated and not-free tap water. Trust me, your plants will thank you for not giv­ing them doses of treated drink­ing water and allow­ing them to soak up nat­ural rain on the dri­est days. Think of all the things that do not require pre-treated tap water: wash­ing the car, water­ing the lawn, water­ing plants and flow­ers, power wash­ing the deck and house. None of these involve ingest­ing the water and most of them will be hit with rain a few min­utes after being cleaned or watered any­way. Next time you grab the hose, think about the effort and cost of treat­ment that made the water safe for you to drink and if it’s really needed for your task. Hope­fully most times you can turn to your rain bar­rel instead.

Now, where to get these fab­u­lous rain bar­rels that will lead you out­side in a down­pour in awe and make your neigh­bors jeal­ous…
Howard County received 55 gal­lon white bar­rels from Drey­ers Grand Ice Cream (a plant resides within the County) and is able to give them to res­i­dents free of charge. Yes, FREE. Sadly, they do not come filled with ice cream, how­ever. So, we have a local source for the bar­rels, which means the car­bon foot­print of your rain bar­rel is pretty low, and we send you with a parts list to your local hard­ware store (again sup­port­ing the small, local busi­ness) where they can help you gather all the parts you need to assem­ble the fully func­tion­ing rain bar­rel for around only $25. That’s prob­a­bly about the amount, if not less than, you would pay for all your out­door water needs in only one year if you con­tin­ued using tap water instead.

Rain bar­rel work­shops will be held at Green­Fest on April 14th. A lim­ited num­ber of free bar­rels and parts kits are avail­able to the pub­lic that day (pre-registration required), but all are wel­come to attend the work­shop which will help you if you get your bar­rel later in the sea­son and assem­ble it at home. Start­ing in a few months, bar­rels, instruc­tions and parts lists are avail­able for pickup at the Alpha Ridge Land­fill the first and third Sat­ur­days of each month at the gazebo near the entrance. Mas­ter Gar­den­ers will be there to answer ques­tions and demon­strate the sim­ple assem­bly and instal­la­tion steps. Res­i­dents receiv­ing bar­rels pledge to use the bar­rel for at least two years.

Hope­fully soon you’ll become the proud new owner of a rain bar­rel and never again find your­self stand­ing in a down­pour singing “rain, rain go away, come again some other day.”

~Lind­say DeMarzo
March 2012

Green Tip

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