Seventy rain barrels headed to work

DETROIT—What better weather for a workshop called Rain Barrels on the Riverfront than rain?

“Water affordability and access are critical concerns in Detroit. Over the past 10 years, water rates have more than doubled in the city.” ~Melissa Damaschke, Sierra Club's Great Lakes program organizing representative

Such was the case one Saturday in April when nearly 100 metro Detroiters braved the cold, windy, wet weather at Rivard Park in Detroit to assemble rain barrels.

Together, the diverse group of old and young, black and white, city dwellers and suburbanites, constructed 70 rain barrels that will collect around 3,500 gallons of water in a single rainstorm.

Rain barrels are one of the simplest, least expensive ways to be a conservationist. A standard rain barrel sitting under a downspout collects around 55 gallons of rainwater – water that would normally end up as runoff, diverting into our storm drains and streams.

And, they save consumers money.

“Water affordability and access are critical concerns in Detroit,” says Melissa Damaschke, Sierra Club's Great Lakes program organizing representative. “Over the past ten years, water rates have more than doubled in the city.”

She says that rain barrels provide a needed resource – water – at no cost. Rain barrel water can be used for watering vegetable and flower gardens, flushing toilets, washing cars and much more.

Just as participants helped each other add spigots, screens and nozzles to the barrels with silicone adhesive, screws and electric screwdrivers, it was also a collaborative effort to pull together the workshop.

“It was great to partner with Detroit RiverFront Conservancy and Maxi Container, “ says Damaschke.

The groups shared the workshop with their networks, and Sierra Club spread the word with block clubs, Community Development Corporations, and other organizations they have worked with in the past. Michigan Citizen published announcements in their newspaper.

Preventing rain water from going into our storm drains and eventually into our streams, rivers and lakes is key to cleaner water and to protecting our Great Lakes. Storm water contains phosphorus found in fertilizers.

Recently, high levels of phosphorus pollution in Lake Erie has led to a serious problem with algae blooms in the west part of the lake, and the problem is thought to be caused by farm runoff and municipal sewage overflow (that’s us, folks). The algae decreases oxygen levels in the water, killing fish and healthy vegetation.

Rain barrels will help the cause, and earlier this month environmental regulators from Michigan and Ohio agreed to stop blaming each other and work together with support from the EPA to find solutions.

In the mean time, we can do our part by installing rain barrels.

Upcoming events to help you conserve water:

  • A series of rain garden workshops that will take place in late-May and early-June.
  • Monthly workshops on "rainwater harvesting techniques," that include rain barrels, green roofs, rain gardens, swales, and more.
  • Monthly bike tours of green water infrastructure examples in Detroit in partnership with Wheelhouse Detroit


More information about these events can be found at www.sierraclub.org/greatlakes/detroit or by calling 313-965-0055.

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