Photo: Young girl filling a watering can from a rain barrel

While rainwater may not always be safe to drink, it can be used for a variety of other applications—from watering your lawn and flower beds to washing cars or driveways.

Photograph by Paul Thompson/Photolibrary

Environmental Impacts

Severe Water Shortage

Think the arid West has cornered the market on water shortages? Think again. Thirty-six states foresee water shortages by 2013, as Americans tap roughly 3.7 trillion gallons more water per year than is replenished.

Worse yet, as much as 40 percent of a home’s potable water goes to yard maintenance. Think about it: The typical garden hose dispenses roughly 10 gallons of water per minute. Watering a flower bed for two minutes could fill some 320 drinking glasses!

How Rain Barrels Help

Barrels help conserve potable water supplies. Treating and distributing safe drinking water is an energy-devouring, greenhouse-gas-spewing endeavor, and given many federal and state laws, most water that is piped into your home, whether it is used for cooking, or flushing the toilet, goes through treatment. Some four percent of our nation’s power goes to water supply and treatment facilities. In California, where water must travel long distances, simply conveying potable water to end users saps some seven percent of all electricity consumed in the state.

Reducing the impact of runoff and flooding. Water rushing off rooftops finds it way to paved surfaces and storm drains as runoff, which picks up harmful pollutants like animal waste, trash, and chemicals along the way and carries them to streams and oceans. Experts cite runoff as the number one cause of water pollution in the U.S.

Keeping rainwater where it falls also reduces flooding and allows groundwater supplies a chance to replenish, meaning more water can be drawn from local—and often less energy-intensive—sources.

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