The West Michigan Environmental Action Council distributed its 1,000th rain barrel earlier this month as part of an event in honor of Coca-Cola’s 100th anniversary at John Ball Zoo. Some 60 barrels were distributed in just under an hour. As of the end of August, WMEAC’s rain barrel program has distributed 1,023 rain barrels to the West Michigan community. Last year, WMEAC distributed 508 barrels through the program, enough to remove 9 million gallons of stormwater runoff from local waterways.
Since 2009, WMEAC has offered free or low-cost rain barrels to Grand Rapids residents as part of a partnership with the City of Grand Rapids, Coca-Cola and other partners. The barrels are distributed through WMEAC and citizen-hosted “Rain Barrel Parties.”
Rain barrels collect storm and rain from rooftops for watering of lawns and gardens. The barrel is generally attached to the gutter system of a building and a screen is installed between the downspout and the barrel to collect debris and prevent mosquitoes from contaminating the water. An overflow pipe is attached near the top of the barrel to prevent excess water from flowing out.
Keeping the rain on the property prevents the water from washing into storm drains and contaminating local waterways with the yard waste, sedimentation and chemical pollutants common to all city residences and streets. Stormwater runoff is the leading source of water pollution in West Michigan.
The John Ball Zoo party was one of many WMEAC has hosted to increase awareness of the stormwater management issue and to help the community be more involved in tackling it in their own back yard. For the past three years, WMEAC has led community efforts to education local residents about the threat of stormwater management through the rain barrel program and related initiatives.
Currently, WMEAC is working with the City of Grand Rapids on the Community Based Stormwater Planning initiative and the 15 to the River campaign, available online at 15toriver.org. In Grand Rapids it only takes 15 to 30 minutes for contaminated rain and stormwater to reach the Grand River after a rain event, a key reason why rain barrels are so important in the fight to keep our water sources clean.