In Southern California, Rain Barrels Allow Cost Effective Water Storage
In California, and throughout the West, residents who care about long-term environmental viability are monitoring and changing their water usage habits. Here at Casa Carrie, we have been replacing water-hungry outdoor plants. Our new landscape features succulents capable of growing in our now warmer, drier climate. In our parkway, we replaced eighty percent of the lawn with slabs of Arizona sandstone. In our shower and tub, we have five-gallon buckets ready to capture water previously lost during the warm-up process.
In November 2014, we purchased two fifty-gallon rain barrels. At that time, I assumed that Southern Californians would want to save every gallon of rainwater runoff possible. While that may be true, companies that sell rain collection barrels focus their marketing efforts on consumers in the Midwest, where summer storms are often plentiful.
An accompanying brochure scolded us not to leave our rain barrels out in freezing weather. If freeze damage occurs, it will void our warrantee. “Store your rain barrel indoors during winter months”, we were admonished. Copywriters of the brochure may wish to add “In cold climates” to their verbiage. At Casa Carrie, in Simi Valley, California, we rarely have frosty nights, even in midwinter. Unlike many Midwestern or Eastern states, Southern California gets almost all of its rainfall during the winter, between November and March.
After visiting our local Do-It Center, Home Depot and Lowe’s Home Improvement Center, we realized that not one brick and mortar store in our area stocked rain barrels of any kind. I can picture Midwestern marketing types believing the hype that “it never rains in Southern California”. If so, who in Southern California would want a rain barrel? My answer is that every homeowner in Southern California should want one or more.
After a Google search, I located the “Good Ideas 50 gal. Khaki Rain Wizard” on the Home Depot website. At just under $100 each, I ordered two, plus a sturdy plastic stand for each barrel. With free shipping from Michigan to California, the total cost for two barrels and stands came to $285. With a $150 rebate expected soon from our local water agency, our net cost for two barrels and stands was $135.
In December 17, 2014, four cartons arrived via United Parcel Service. Shipped from Michigan, the cartons looked like they had traversed an international war zone. Fortunately, the barrels, stands and hardware packages arrived mostly undamaged. Setup consisted of unpacking, and then using a wrench to thread the brass spigots into pre-threaded plastic holes near the base of each barrel. I found it difficult to tell if I was cross-threading the spigot as I turned the wrench. I suggest drop-shipping your barrels to a local Home Depot and then having them install the spigots, free of charge. After setup, the stands were strong and wide enough to stay upright, even on uneven ground. With their faux whiskey barrel appearance, the barrels blended nicely into our garden.
After placing each barrel under a rain gutter downspout, all we needed was some rain. By the next morning, we received about one third inch of rain, which quickly filled both barrels. Actually, one barrel was full and the other had a small pinhole leak on the “winter-storage hanging knobs” found near the top of each barrel. By the time I discovered the leak, I had recycled the shipping cartons. My easiest recourse was to keep the barrel and try to patch the hole with some glue. So far, that process has not been successful.
Reflecting on “quality control” back at the factory, I thought, “Hey, it’s a rain barrel. Shouldn’t it at least hold water?” Maybe the “Good Ideas” people should use an inspection lamp to check for pinhole leaks and then cushion the protruding knobs prior to shipment. An upgrade in the shipping cartons and heavier packing tape might help avoid damage to both the cartons and the barrels on their long trip to California.
After fixing the leaky barrel, I will have 100 gallons available for rainwater storage. With a net price after rebates of $135, that meant my first hundred gallons of rainwater cost me $1.35 per gallon. Luckily, we were able to use all 100 gallons before the next storm hit. Although the second storm brought less rain, runoff again filled each barrel. By then, my cost for stored rainwater had dropped in half, to $.68 per gallon. At first, that seems like a lot of money for such a modest collection of water. However, we can now reap the benefits of chlorine-free garden water for decades to come.
Now, in mid-February 2015, blizzards and freezing weather continue to lash New England. Boston has received over six feet of snow in less than a month. Here in Simi Valley, California, it is eighty degrees Fahrenheit outside and there is no precipitation in the forecast. Since December 2014, Mother Nature has filled our rain barrels three times. Along with the other buckets that we used to collect rain and shower water, we have saved and reused over six hundred gallons during this rainy season alone.
Here is an idea for homeowners all over Southern California and the West. Rather than letting your rainwater run into storm drains, install rain barrels and residential cisterns throughout California. If all homeowners participated, California and the West could save untold amounts of our most precious resource, which is clean potable water available to all.