Sustainable Missoula: Build a rain barrel, save 1,300 gallons of water a year

Participants at a recent workshop hosted by the National Wildlife Federation and MUD assemble a rain barrel.

No matter who you are or where you live, all people need fresh water to survive. Not only is it critical for sustaining life, but water is also used for fundamental human processes, such as manufacturing clothing and electronics, growing food, and transportation.

However, according to a recent feature in National Geographic, only about 2.5 percent of the planet’s water is fresh water, and the vast majority of that fresh water is inaccessible, leaving “only 0.007 percent of the planet’s water available to fuel and feed its 6.8 billion people”.

In fact, when you include the water that is used indirectly (e.g., the 1,800 gallons it takes to manufacture a pair of blue jeans), the average American family consumes nearly 1.9 million gallons annually. So it is becoming increasingly important to raise awareness of the ways in which individuals can lower their own water footprint by using sustainable practices.

In addition to learning more about the water footprint of our consumption, there are other practical steps many of us can take to conserve water. That’s where rain barrels come in.

Installing a single 55-gallon rain barrel can save the average homeowner up to 1,300 gallons of water every year. This not only reduces water bills and the need for tap water, but also addresses environmental issues such as stormwater runoff, erosion and water conservation in an area prone to drought.

For many, one deterrent to implementing this solution is that a new commercial rain barrel can cost upwards of $100 from a home goods store. But what if I said you could take home a fully functioning rain barrel for just $45? You’re probably wondering, “What’s the catch?” Well, there is no catch – only a catchment system.

On May 18, the National Wildlife Federation and Missoula Urban Demonstration Project co-hosted their first rain barrel workshop. With upcycled syrup drums donated from Coca-Cola and all the necessary tools provided through a grant with the River Network, the task was simple: Construct a rain barrel, decorate it, and take it home. By the end of the workshop, 26 rain barrels were installed in 22 gardens (some participants purchased extra barrels to create a multi-barrel catchment system). This means the three-hour workshop will play a role in successfully conserving over 33,000 gallons of water this year.

The workshop also included an informational session. As the Energy Corps member serving with the National Wildlife Federation, I gave a presentation about the NWF’s Garden for Wildlife program and how rain barrels can benefit native plants and wildlife. Heather Leach, an Energy Corps member serving with the Clark Fork Coalition, provided context for the importance of water conservation in the Clark Fork Watershed. Lastly, MUD tool librarian Jonathan Peeblson shared a wealth of knowledge on maximizing rainwater catchment in your home garden.

This Missoula workshop was the second in a series of three resulting from a partnership between the River Network and the National Wildlife Federation. The first, hosted in Billings by the Montana Wildlife Federation and the Montana Audubon Center, was held on May 11 and sold out within weeks of being announced. The final installment in the series will be held in Missoula on June 15 at MUD.

During a time where environmental issues are at the forefront of international concerns, it is comforting and refreshing to stop and think about the small steps a person can take to minimize his or her impact. I recently learned about an ideology of “Do One Thing.” Even if it’s simply riding a bike to work once a week, or paying extra for a composting service, if everyone chooses to “Do One Thing,” all of our combined efforts will make an impact in bettering our planet.

Especially as summers in Missoula are trending drier and warmer due to climate change, water conservation measures are smart and practical. Want to “Do One Thing” and install a rain barrel? Register for our June 15 workshop here.

Andie Conlon is the Energy Corps-AmeriCorps service member currently serving with the National Wildlife Federation in Missoula.

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every Friday by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Upcoming Sustainability Events:

June 4. Fundraiser at the Top Hat for National Wildlife Federation. 25% of all food and beverage sales between 6-9pm will be donated to NWF.  

June 4-5. Missoula County Zoning Code update public open houses. Sophie Moiese Room, Missoula County Courthouse. 5:30-7pm on June 4 and 11:30-1pm on June 5.

June 7. EPI’s Annual First Friday celebration. Music, art, family-friendly activities and more, with a climate focus. At Ecology Project International, 315 S. 4th St E., 5-8pm.

June 7. Energy Smart Tour of the Historic Swift Building. Learn about energy upgrades and sustainable practices. Registration optional but encouraged. 315 S. 4th St E., 5:30pm.

June 7. First Friday Parklet with National Wildlife Federation. Stop by to sign up for NWF’s rain barrel workshop, learn about how you can garden for wildlife, and more. PLUS Ranger Rick will be making an appearance from 5:00-6:15pm!  240 N. Higgins.

June 13. Climate Smart Missoula’s Monthly Meetup. This month’s topic is water protection and conservation. At Imagine Nation Brewing, 5-6:30pm.

June 20. Free showing of Paris to Pittsburgh, followed by panel discussion. Hosted by Climate Smart Missoula and Families for a Livable Climate. The Roxy Theater, 7pm.

View more climate and energy events via Climate Smart Missoula’s Calendar.

There are many more conservation events for 2019 HERE.