|Carrie T. Stevenson
Coastal Sustainability Agent
Escambia County Extension
With dry conditions, mandated water restrictions in many parts of the state, and rising prices of almost everything, water conservation is more important than ever. Floridians use more water than any other state for irrigation, and a typical home sprinkler system can account for half of the cost and water use in a household.
Carrie providing rain barrel assembly instructions.
Like many counties around the state, rain barrels have caught on with Escambia County homeowners as a convenient and efficient way to conserve water. Modern rain barrels involve ancient technology that relies simply on gravity, allowing stormwater to run from a rooftop into a gutter. The gutter funnels water into a plastic food-grade barrel or other container fitted with screen to keep out debris and insects. Most rain barrels also have an overflow device near the top (for heavy storms that might fill the barrel) and a spigot at the bottom for filling a watering can or attaching a hose. Rain barrels vary widely in design, but they can be painted to add a decorative touch, or easily screened behind a shrub.
A volunteer helps with assembly. Photo Credits: Carrie Stevenson
In addition to conserving water, rain barrels and larger-capacity cisterns can be very effective means of preventing stormwater pollution. During a typical 1” rainstorm, an average home’s roof can yield 600 gallons of rainwater runoff that would normally flow downstream, picking up oils, greases, bacteria, trash, and pesticides along the way that end up in our water bodies. Rain barrels interrupt that process by collecting stormwater runoff before it has a chance to pick up pollutants.
Completed barrels can be decorated in many ways.
Escambia County started offering rain barrel workshops in August of 2008, including several school-based programs. Since that time, 143 homeowners, 8 teachers, and dozens of school-age children have built rain barrels. The most recent workshop held in February 2011 attracted 59 participants, including homeowners, college students attending for extra credit, high school students volunteering their time, and 4-H kids looking for a hands-on way to learn about conserving water. Consistent with other program evaluations, results from the meeting showed that 100% of attendees would recommend the workshop to a friend and 97% left with a better understanding of water conservation and stormwater pollution.
Rain barrel workshops at Extension offices throughout the district have led to the creation of the Extension Rainwater Harvesting Demonstration Trailer, which is wrapped in eye-catching graphics and can be towed throughout the district, state, and adjacent states. The trailer contains everything needed for a workshop and/or demonstration, including a working tabletop water collection display, a rain barrel, a cistern, a mock landscape with multiple irrigation distribution types, and educational banners and handouts. We’ve also compiled a CD with regional publications and instructional guides on irrigation, plant selection, and using cisterns and rain barrels. Our website, www.gardeninginthepanhandle.com, currently features links to rainwater harvesting sites. As the project evolves, the site will include maps of rainwater reuse demonstration sites around the district with photos, a workshop schedule, a database of suppliers, demonstration videos, testimonial stories and photos from homeowners who have installed rainwater harvesting devices. The trailer will be featured at the upcoming West Florida Homebuilders’ Association Lawn & Patio Show in Pensacola on April 9, as well as the Power Up Energy Expo, to be held April 11-13 on Pensacola Beach (www.powerupenergyexpo.com).