Rain barrel apostasy

Thank you, Emily Green, posting at “Chance of Rain,” for expressing your ambivalence about rain barrels. Owen Dell’s feelings, in contrast, are unconflicted. He calls them “another delusional, greenwashed, pernicious consumer scam.” Jay Lund, at UC Davis, calculates that the water provided by rain barrels water is ridiculously expensive. Even more dramatically,

…if a rain barrel’s installation removes 8 square feet of a highly watered lawn (1 to 2 acre-feet a year), the gallons saved from reducing the irrigated area would be similar to the water provided by the rain barrel.

O, People of the Rain Barrel, please consider irrigating a little less rather than buying another barrel! Consider taking that money you were going to spend on a rain barrel and use it for an efficient showerhead, a swale, or a rain garden.


Rain barrel apostasy — 6 Comments

  1. Rain barrels are not the problem, it’s the water habits of people. Barrels can without question save using outdoor water from the tap. If you use water extravaganly from the tap, you’ll continue using it extravagantly whether from a barrel or tap. If you are conscientious about limiting water use, a barrel (or several) might be all you need for outdoor uses. My neighbor pumps water from a rain barrel to her clothes washer that uses about 50 gallons per load - that’s smart and cost effective if you can’t afford a high-efficiency front loader.

  2. I agree with the other poster. I would not spend my time worrying about rain barrels when people are running their sprinklers during a rain storm. Correctly positioned rain barrels do save water.

  3. I use a repurposed container that washed up in a hurricane. I only water my lawn during very dry weather. Water from my rain barrel goes to water my container vegetable garden. Although it is a little more work than just picking up the garden hose, it does save water. PS Have very little lawn and a big rain garden.

  4. Honored to have this cross-listed. The original article is about rain barrels in a Mediterranean climate, with a long dry summer - California. Rain barrels, or other small rainwater cisterns, are likely to yield much more water in Florida’s climate. Whether they are worthwhile is up to each potential user who might invest in it. I’m mostly interested in encouraging folks, and local water agencies, to do their own calculations.

  5. Thanks for the clarification. I suppose that Florida rain barrels would capture and release more water than in southern California. What is not so clear to me is the empirical question about the total effects of rain barrel ownership: Does it result in less overall water use, or due to “moral licensing (http://www.wateryfoundation.com/?p=11179), incentivize a net increase? Does acquiring a rain barrel mean that I will keep irrigating the lanscape just as before or will I perhaps put in more nice plants that unfortunately will need water when the barrel is empty?

  6. Another older term for a rain barrel is a cistern, and they were historic breeders of Aedes aegypti, the vector for dengue fever and yellow fever throughout the South and now quite possibly chikungunya fever. I’ve haven’t seen any comments on mosquitoes so I wondered if users are aware of this potential and if so, do they screen them enough to stop mosquito egg laying. In my part of Florida, our bird bath is enough to allow for mosquito breeding if not flushed weekly.
    Call me curious?