Stormwater Library

resources for stormwater professionals

Archive for Stakeholder Education

Properly Designing the Rainbarrel

Here are some things to weigh when considering rainbarrels as part of a stormwater BMP. While rain-harvesting and storage are nice potential side benefits of the barrel, its future success relies on keeping the focus squarely on stormwater capture. If you look around the internet and review municipal rainbarrel programs that are being promoted, they are often discussing the 50- to 60-gallon barrel like it is a viable option.

It simply isn’t. Consisder these conservative assumptions:

Let’s say a typical residential roof is 1200 square feet (it is closer to 1600). And, let’s say that a minor storm passes through – on the order of 1/4″. That would create a runoff volume of approximately 187 gallons. Let’s assume that only 60 percent of that runoff made it to the downspout due to ponding and poor pitching of the roof. That would result in a runoff to the downspouts of approximately 112 gallons. If the homeowner had 2 downspouts and 2 50-gallon barrels, the system is are already overflowing. With 4 downspouts and 4 barrels, the system is more than half full after a very small storm – just one storm. Furthermore, the overflow checks that are typically designed into a rainbarrel are not able to discharge at a rate that can keep up with the runoff rate into the barrel. So, the notion that the barrel is safe from overflowing during a storm is on shaky ground.

Here comes the next issue. The homeowner wants to be able to store this rainwater for future use, but the weather is a little rainy and the need to irrigate is not currently there. A couple of days later, the next small storm comes through and your barrels that should be empty are starting off at 56 percent of capacity. The new 1/4″ storm overflows the barrels. And, this is if 4 barrels are installed – not typically the case.

Where does that leave us? If rainbarrels are to be considered as a viable BMP, then larger ones need to be used. Successful programs like those used in the cities of Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., use barrels with 3 times the typical volume capacity at 150-gallons. This could provide some storage capacity for future use in more arid regions of the country. In the areas prone to heavier rainfall, use of a couple of larger barrels offers the ability to capture runoff from more substantial events, but still not likely act as a harvesting tool.

The long and short of it is this. Focus should primarily be on stormwater capture, especially of that first flush. Once that water is captured, it will likely need to be emptied onsite through controlled overflow to a drywell or dedicated infiltration area on the property. Homeowners need to be educated on these issues and keep tabs on capacity and maintenance.

A final point should be considered when designing rainbarrels for storwater capture. Is it properly constructed? I run across a lot of make-your-own barrel websites that are not always considering issues such as proper overflowing or covering of the barrel. The last thing a homeowner wants to deal with is a massive buildup of water right next to the foundation, or a mosquito population explosion in the sideyard.

While the DIY approach has some appeal, by and large the focus should be on proper design and engineering. If we can get away from poor planning and design, rainbarrels can be a great addition to the lot-level approach of managing stormwater.


Identifying the roadblocks to LID – 2008 Puget Sound Study

In 2008, a research study was sponsored by the State of Washington to survey the progress being made by 19 local governments in adopting LID controls into their building codes. A representative from each of the 19 municipalities was asked the same set of questions regarding the barriers seen to LID implementation. Some of the trends they found in the responses include the following:

  • Perception that LID is not a proven technology
  • General public and government officials lack understanding of LID
  • Perception that LID is more expensive when compared to traditional BMPs
  • Planning departments lack training to review and inspect LID controls
  • Developers lack knowledge of LID
  • LID difficult to use in urban settings, difficult to retrofit

One of the more interesting solutions to the obstacles focused on funding of “high traffic” demonstration projects to help provide a local proof of benefit.

The report can be read in its entirety here.


Update: Stormwater Equipment Manufacturers Association

A couple of days ago, I provided a brief introduction to the Stormwater Equipment Manufacturers Association. It was interesting to see their rollout in the press through a distribution of a press release, “A New Voice for Stormwater“.

I was looking forward to seeing the content develop on their website. Two days later, my wish has been granted. Please review the new content on the association’s website. They have broken it out into the following sections:

  • Membership – I was pleased to see a very reasonable level granted to professionals outside of the manufacturing arena at $100
  • Committees – Maintenance and Government/Regulatory
  • Buyer’s Guide – broken down by BMP categories and services
  • Future Publications – a list of future publications pertaining to their initiatives
  • News – upcoming events, including conferences
  • Links – associations, publications, government agencies.

I plan on profiling the group to talk more about their initiatives and to discuss progress to date. The discussion they are trying to facilitate is important and should bring many of the stakeholders to the table.

Stormwater Equipment Manufacturers Association

This is an interesting development – a trade association for stormwater equipment manufacturers. As a first intiative, this group seems to be reading the tea leaves. Out of the gate, their priority is focused on stakeholder education. The website gives a brief introduction and I look forward to seeing content develop there and perhaps a more direct way of getting in touch with them.

I was pleased to see that they put out a press release today about their iniatives. They touch on the confusing arena in which stormwater professionals often find themselves and circle back to the notion that stakeholder education is key. It reads as a bit of a stormwater manifesto, which is an interesting and direct approach. Take a look at their press release, “A New Voice for Stormwater“.

Choosing your words: A thoughtful approach to changing how others view stormwater

Understanding who the stakeholders are is quite simply the most important part of the sustainable stormwater discussion. One of the more impactful and concise tools in my search for useful storwater resources is called The Language of Change. Essentially, this brief document helps you frame the green stormwater argument in terms that each of your stakeholders can understand. By choosing your words properly, you improve the chances of connecting with your audience.

Starting with the notion that community stakeholders tend to view stormwater as “dirty”, “a nuisance”, or “threatening”, the document touches on using “rainwater” as a synonym. Stormwater is typically viewed as something to be diverted and hidden away in its pipe until reaching an unseen destination. When the traditional system of handling it is overloaded, then its nuisance or threating side comes out in the form of flooding. Rainwater, however, is viewed as something that can be collected, spread out, harvested, and reused. A simple change in wording, can transform the idea from waste product into valuable and renewable resource.

Getting buy-in from the different stakeholders is critical to the process. Regulators are going to respond more keenly to traditional terms like “TMDLs”, Park & Recreation Districts to “open space”, and engineers like myself will be wooed by “infiltration”. Choosing your words carefully, helps to make the case to each member of your audience.

The document is part of a much larger set of tools organized by the Water Environment Research Foundation at its sustaiable stormwater BMPs website Using Rainwater to Grow Livable Communities. There you can find resouces dedicated to each of the stakeholders, as well as case studies, and a comprehensive toolbox.