When we think of our stormwater as a precious fresh water resource, it doesn’t make sense to manage it like a waste product. There is a finite amount of fresh water on earth and we can all take steps to protect it, starting with collecting it where it falls!
When we catch and keep the rainwater that falls on our yards, we reduce flooding and stress on sewer system infrastructure, keep pollutants out of our rivers and streams, and end up with a bunch of clean water that is perfect for watering lawns and gardens, washing cars or the family dog, and offsetting household water usage in many other ways.
One simple, efficient, low-cost method to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff from your property is to use rain barrels. Estimates indicate that a quarter-inch of rain falling on an average home yields over 200 gallons of water. Rain barrels are simply large containers that capture stormwater from your roof that would otherwise be lost as runoff. Modern rain barrels are sealed, safe around children and insect resistant – they can even be painted or decorated to your liking. You can divert water from your downspout to fill your rain barrel and a hose spigot on the front makes the water easy to access and use.
Around 40% of total household water used during the summer months is for watering lawns and gardens. Rainwater doesn’t contain chlorine, lime or calcium which makes it ideal for watering your flowers and vegetable garden or washing your car or windows. You may notice a decrease in your water bill! Even if you don’t have an intended use for the water, emptying the rain barrel after a storm reduces the rate and volume of stormwater the sewer system and our rivers and streams have to manage at a peak time. View this guide or watch this video for easy installation tips.
The Conservation Foundation sells rain barrels year-round through our partnership with Upcycle Products, Inc. Our 55-gallon rain barrels are made of recycled food-grade plastic, come in a variety of colors and can be purchased online for $60 (plus tax). Home delivery is available for $5 more. Barrels can also be purchased in person at McDonald Farm or area events for $75 (includes tax).
***Please note: rain barrels ordered online will not be available for pickup at McDonald Farm until the following week.
We also organize many county, municipal, and organizational rain barrel sales. Peruse this list to find a sale near you:
Rain gardens are shallow depressions planted with native plants that are accustomed to wet conditions. Rain gardens help to collect and filter rainwater and allow it to seep naturally into the ground. This helps to reduce the amount of pollutants and rainwater runoff reaching our streams.
Many of the streams in northeastern Illinois are affected by pollutants carried in rainwater that runs off our urban landscape. Non-source pollutants from our yards include excess nutrients and pesticides from lawn chemicals and pet waste. Not only are the pollutants harmful to our streams, but the large amount of water that rushes through the storm sewers and into the streams erodes banks and causes downstream flooding. Rain gardens filter this water through the native plants deep roots system into the ground rather than rush into the streams.
Where do I start?
Each of your downspouts and your sump pump outlet are great places to begin – they bring water from your roof and that water can be used to make your rain garden.
Rain gardens can also be made in places in your yard where water collects now – they can solve drainage issues.
The University of Wisconsin Extension Service put together a great resource on how to build your own Rain Garden. This 32 page Rain Garden Manual can be downloaded here in a PDF format.
Applied Ecological Services has also provided its expertise on rain gardens in a Rain Garden Guide (click to view or download) created in partnership with The Conservation Foundation.