Rain barrels at Southpointe promote water quality

Story and photos by Erica Jobman, NewsNetNebraska

April showers may bring flowers, but what about rain barrels?

If you have visited Southpointe Pavilions recently, you may have noticed 25 painted rain barrels scattered throughout the stores in the mall. The colorful pastels depict everything from abstract to animals.

Who would have guessed these barrel beauties are actually promoting water quality improvement?

This rain barrel – called “Don’t Cage Us” from Live Yes Studios – sits beside Maurice’s entrance at Southpointe Pavilion.

This rain barrel – called “Don’t Cage Us” from Live Yes Studios – sits beside Maurice’s entrance at Southpointe Pavilions.

Rain barrels are one of several tools used to manage water runoff. They are above-ground containers built to catch and store water running off rooftops for non-drinking purposes, according to the City of Lincoln’s Watershed Management Division.

The 25 painted barrels are the main display for the 2013 Artistic Rain Barrel Program that is put on by the Watershed Management Division and Lincoln Children’s Museum. Every year since 2009, 25 local artists transform 55-gallon barrels into works of art to promote water quality.

“It is a great way to engage and educate the community,” said Ellen Wright, the environmental health educator at the City of Lincoln’s Watershed Management Division. “And by engaging the art community, we are really able to attract people’s attention to rainwater harvest and show the community what they can do.”

Storm water is the number one pollutant of lakes and stream, Wright said. And according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), storm water may contribute as much as 70 percent of pollutants in lakes, rivers and creeks.

This barrel sits in GAP’s display window and is called “Silhouette” by Sadie Johnson.

This barrel sits in GAP’s display window and is called “Silhouette” by Sadie Johnson.

Every property leads to a natural waterway, regardless of its location, according to UNL Water. Even light snow or rain or water from a garden hose can become runoff. As water travels, it collects pollutants such as soil, fertilizer, pesticides and yard waste. This polluted water then travels into storm drains that lead directly to natural waterways.

The real issue, Wright said, is the volume of water entering into storm drains.

“Our roads were designed to get water off as quickly as possible,” she said. “And as the city has grown, we’ve had more impervious surfaces that flushes off a lot of water.”

The biggest impact rain barrels have on water quality is slowing the flow of runoff. By storing the water and using it a little at a time, the water is allowed to reach the drain in smaller and slower increments.

In the past, the rain barrel program has been able to raise more than $12,000 for The Friends of Pioneers Park Nature Center for the group’s preschool and camp scholarships. This year, however, the program will raise funds for Lincoln Children’s Zoo to support summer classes, educational information for exhibits and other environmental education programs.

Sitting in the middle of Sartor Hamann, this rain barrel is called “Let All Colors Run Together” by Anna Alcalde.

Sitting in the middle of Sartor Hamann, this rain barrel is called “Let All Colors Run Together” by Anna Alcalde.

The barrels will be auctioned off at Southpointe on April 20 from 10 a.m. to noon. Pictures, descriptions and locations of all the rain barrels can be found on the 2013 Artistic Rain Barrel Program website.

There are four main parts to a rain barrel:

  • the connection to the downspout of a house or building,
  • a filter to prevent mosquitoes from entering,
  • a faucet for dispensing the water
  • and an overflow pipe to get rid of excess water.

The water collected by rain barrels can be used for a number of purposes. It can be used to wash your car or water your lawn. It is even safe to use in the garden because pollutants and minerals trapped in the water are filtered out by plant roots.

The water, however, should not be used for drinking. Rainwater is more acidic than tap water, and it may also contain particles from air pollution.

So, in the end, the fun, brightly colored barrels carry a more serious message.

“This is a national problem,” Wright said. “And we are alerting people to the issue.”

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