Monday, February 20, 2012

detain the rain with low cost rain barrels

CM Jane Brunner and
homeowner Terry Galloway

Anyone who's lived in the Bay Area for more than a few years knows we generally have dry summers and wet winters (this winter notwithstanding). But what newer residents may not know about are the occasional fires in the urban/rural interface of the hills. The immediate event is devastating, but the longer-term effects can be devastating, too. Denuded hillsides don't hold the rain, leading to mudslides, and roads and homes destroyed.

Hiller Highlands in the north Oakland hills has experienced all this, and resident Terry Galloway knows first-hand about the effects. He lost his home in the 1991 Oakland Firestorm that killed 25 people and destroyed almost 3,800 homes, apartments and condominiums. Then he watched mudslides when the rains began that winter. But even in years when there hasn't been a recent fire, normal rains can cause mudslides which damage property and roads. It's a difficult problem.

One answer is to build a network of storm drains and storage tanks, but Oakland doesn't have the estimated $200 million+ needed for it. A much more economical solution is to detain the rain on individual properties, and make the peak water flow lower by spreading it out. Or as Lesley Estes, the city's Watershed Program Supervisor said, "to control the firehose effect." Galloway already had two 65 gallon 'Moby' rain barrels, and Estes, council member Jane Brunner, and Matt Freiberg of the Watershed Project came to see more storage installed.

Matt Freiberg of
the Watershed Project

Much of the prep work for this install was done by two interns in Merritt College's Environmental Science program, but Freiberg described how simple a typical install can be. It does require some plastic pipes and fittings, and usually cutting the existing downspout, but overall it's fairly easy. Galloway said the hardest part was getting the new 305 gallon tank from the street to its final location behind his house.

The city has a federal grant which significantly reduces the cost of the rain barrels. The 65 gallon barrel retails for $219, but is available through the city program for $48.50. There are larger tanks like the 305 gallon tank installed at the Galloway residence, all the way up to a 620 gallons. Buying one is as easy as going to the city's rain barrel program website and placing your order. You can either pick up the barrels or arrange to have them delivered. I bought two of the 65 gallon barrels a couple of years ago.

BUT (you knew there was a 'but' coming), the federal funding for the program runs out at the end of 2012. Which means to get the barrels for the lower cost, you need to order and take delivery before then.

There are benefits besides erosion control. If you have any sort of garden or plants, you can use the collected rain to water them and reduce your water bill. Galloway has a drip system connected to his existing barrels, and uses rainwater to provide water for the small greenhouse built behind his home. The new tank will be used to water six fruit trees. I was also impressed because he has a solar hot water system for providing hot water in the house and heating the small pool in the backyard, as well as photo voltaic panels to generate electricity.

more pictures from the install:

For more information about the program, see

Also check out the coverage at Oakland North.

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