Want to be green? One of the first suggestions you hear is to get a rainbarrel. Reducing runoff and reusing water are touted as it's benefits. But how much of an impact does a rainbarrel really make? Some say, "Not much," when it comes to how much water you will reuse compared to how much your landscape actually needs. Check out this post by Owen Dell, sustainable landscape guru and author of Sustainable Landscaping for Dummies, where he calculates that "A single 60-gallon rain barrel will supply 0.00043 of my annual water needs, making it necessary for me to have 2,333 barrels to meet those needs."
He also raises a point in his post that I've been thinking about a lot when considering using rainbarrel water on my vegetable garden. How clean is that water, really? After a few weeks without rain, all kinds of pollution and bird droppings collect on your roof, then dissolve into a "toxic soup" with the first rainfall. This is all delivered neatly into my rainbarrel, which I plan to use to water my vegetables? That I plan to eat? Yuck! And if the rainbarrel is sitting out in the sun, the water could potentially burn the plants.
So, to rainbarrel or not. That's the question. I still see value in rainwater harvesting, even if what's collected is not very much. Your perennials and grass will still love this water, even if it might be too dirty for veggies. In my opinion, any water we can keep out of our storm sewer system and on our own property is of value. Just look at the problems we are having along the Mississippi. Here in DuPage County, the water that runs off our property goes into our sewer system and is then dumped, pollutants and all, into the DuPage River. The DuPage feeds into the Illinois River, which flows into the Mississippi. Who knows how much of their flooding problem could have been avoided if more of us up north saved some of our rainwater?
There are many sources for rainbarrels, but one that I'd recommend is The Conservation Foundation based in Naperville, who recycles plastic containers for rainbarrel use. Check with your municipality - here in Glen Ellyn you can get a $40 rebate from the village for installing a barrel.