Cisterns, barrels and rain gardens! Oh my!

  • By Sarah Jackson
  • Thursday, April 21, 2011 9:56am
  • Local News

Today, The Herald published my latest Home & Garden story.

It was about rain barrels, in honor of Earth Day.

Rain barrels are wonderful things, catching the rain and allow you to use it later. They can also help you gracefully channel rain away from your house to prevent basement flooding.

During the course of my reporting, however, I learned that rain barrels are really just “training wheels” for people who aren’t yet ready for the big guns, so to speak.

If you really want to harvest rainwater in the rainy Northwest, you really have to think bigger.

Water is the new oil. It’s precious.

I’m talking about cisterns, rain gardens and whole-house rain-water recycling systems.

This is something to be thinking about this Friday, Earth Day, April 22.

Cisterns are essentially large-scale rain barrels that can be installed above or below ground.

They can be hooked up to modified indoor plumbing systems to provide free water for flushing toilets and doing laundry, plus garden irrigation, car washing and powerwashing.

Collected rainwater can be easily filtered to remove debris and fine particles, said Michael Broili, owner of Living Systems Design of Shoreline.

European clothes washers, which typically heat their own water, can offer hot and cold washing using rainwater exclusively, Broili said.

Most of the large rainwater harvesting systems that Broili designs cost between $8,000 and $15,000 installed, a commitment, to be sure, but money you can make back over time in water savings, depending on how your are billed for water use.

Broili said an increasing number of people are becoming interested in using water more wisely, not just out in the garden, but inside their homes.

“We’ve gone, in 15 years, from no attention to a major focus on it, not only here in the Northwest, but, I think, globally,” he said.

Broili will teach a two-hour rain water harvesting class at 7 p.m. June 8 at the Phinney Neighborhood Center in Seattle, which has a rain water catchment system that provides water for flushing toilets. (Call 206-783-2244 to sign up for the class, which costs $25.)

Meanwhile, even bigger things are happening: The Washington State University Extension has just announced a major-cool, super-ambitious project: It’s called 12,000 Rain Gardens in Puget Sound.

The Washington State University Extension and Stewardship Partners, a nonprofit land restoration and preservation company based in Seattle, are working together to help private landowners install 12,000 rain gardens by 2016.

What the heck is a rain garden?

Rain gardens are gardens designed to capture and filter stormwater runoff from land, rooftops and driveways. They function less like man-altered landscapes and more like natural areas undisturbed by development.

And having 12,000 of them in the Puget Sound region could soak up an estimated 160 million gallons of polluted runoff each year.

It’s very, very cool.

You can have one, too.

My sources tell me there will be a “rain garden cluster installation” on Sept. 24 in Everett.

I’m not sure exactly what that is, but I’ll be finding out.

See to see how you can get involved with classes and workshops right now.

I’ll be reporting more on this here on Eco Geek and in The Herald as the project moves forward.

Stay tuned, stay dry and stay frosty.

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