As part of our Green Living activity, the block decided one of our first projects would be to acquire rain barrels to catch and conserve rain water. Greenmaker Building Supply on N. Pulaski in the city delivered the barrels to us at the end of June. Our rain barrels are former food containers, and most of the neighbors ordered fashionable terra cotta barrels, although the black ones were quite handsome, too.

About half the block participated in the order, and I received several inquiries from those who missed the order deadline. We plan to spend some time during our block party in August with a Green Circle talking about what we’ve done so far, trading tips and planning future group projects.

I associated rain barrels with rural areas. But they are an ancient form of conservation dating back as far as 2,000 years ago in clay containers in Thailand. Recently they have come back into favor, according to Only 2.5% of the water covering the earth’s surface is considered fresh water, and of that, much is bound up in glaciers and ice caps, as well as clouds and soil humidity. So, there’s not much fresh water available, and as recent fires in the West illustrate, insufficient rain threatens homes and well being, as well as agriculture.

Since rain water is naturally soft and generally does not contain contaminants or additives, such as chlorine or fluoride, it is ideal for watering landscaping and potted plants. We haven’t hooked ours up yet, but a roof catchment area of just 1,000 square feet can collect 600 gallons of water for every inch of rain that falls. We’ll need to pick a place that can absorb overflow, when the barrel is full. Thus we need to pick a spot that isn’t concrete or asphalt, because the water will just run off, rather than soak into the ground.

It will be fun to see how the neighborhood “greens up” with this project and what we can learn from our collective conservation efforts.

If you are ambitious and handy, you can build your own rain barrel with a 55-gallon drum ( There are a lot more tips about the acquisition, use and care of rain barrels on the Internet, of course. And there’s plenty of information about freshwater, too.

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