By Nicole Hennessy
Northeast Ohio is officially experiencing drought conditions attributed to global warming by environmental groups.
Short spurts of heavy rain never seem to be enough to quench the parched, brown lawns that crunch beneath feet after higher-than-usual regional temperatures alleviated winter and skipped spring.
Unless homeowners or renters have the money or time to regularly water their grass, the dried-up plots of land wait for rain that seems to come on in heavy spurts, or not at all.
Another option, though, is to buy or make a rain barrel.
Rain barrels aren’t new, but they’re a long way from being implemented on a large scale the way outsourced trash collection integrates identical receptacles and recycling bins into entire neighborhoods.
One possible assumption is that trash collection is a for-profit business and not that much money could be made off of rain barrels after the initial purchase. That assumption is wrong.
“Rain barrels are really important for stormwater management,” said Stefanie Penn Spear, founder, executive director and editor of EcoWatch, a nonprofit environmental news organization located in Cleveland.
“When you’re collecting the water from your roof, you are preventing that water from going into storm drains.”
This is especially important in Northeast Ohio, because when there’s a heavy rain the sewers can’t manage the water – so raw sewage enters surrounding waterways rather than going to the treatment plant.
Realizing this and other benefits, Avon resident Ann Gedeon thought she’d start using a rain barrel. After building one, everyone who came to her house showed an interest in it, even asking her to build them one.
“Then all their friends wanted one,” she said. “So I built one for them.”
Soon she began advertising, after which her whole garage filled up with rain barrels to be sold. After her husband complained, she found a small garagelike space in Westlake, where her store, Rain Barrels n’ More, is located today.
A lot of the materials sold in the shop are recycled, and everything is made in America.
The impact of entire communities using rain barrels “would be huge,” Gedeon said, insisting each person would save $20 to $30 per month on their water bill; plus, water companies are able to reserve more treated water for indoor purposes, such as drinking or showering.
“If you’re using a hose and you’re not — obviously — filtering that water, there’s chlorine in it and other things, so the plants will be happier using rain barrel water,” Spear explained. “Yes, there’s issues with acid rain, but you’re better off.”
Actually, Gedeon recently tested her rainwater, and found it to be only slightly acidic, something plants like anyway.
She continued, explaining why the water industry encourages alternative water use: “There is so much rainwater runoff from the new communities that the old system cannot handle all that rainwater runoff, and so their systems are overloaded.”
In her store, she’s seen a few condominium owners interested in propertywide barrel use, but has yet to be approached by a city.
However, most cities offer rain barrel-building workshops and information sessions throughout the summer. Similarly, workshops are offered at Rain Barrels n’ More.
“Anybody can turn any container into a rain barrel,” said Gedeon.