The City’s engineering firm, MSA Professional Services, provides some good information on how residents can manage their stormwater runoff with a simple rain barrel.

Rain barrels.

What are they? What purpose do they serve? Are they easy enough to maintain? Where can I get one that doesn’t cost $100, locally? What should I consider before I commit to it? Can they freeze, or do they have to be drained in winter? Do they breed mosquitoes? Can you water your garden/yard with water that has mosquito preventative in it? Are there restrictions on them here? Are they worth the effort?

Rain barrels are typically placed at the end of roof downspouts. The intent is to capture storm water runoff to supplement nonpotable water use, usually garden irrigation. If deployment of rain barrels are substantial in a watershed, they could potentially reduce runoff volume and increase pollutant removal. It is not likely that most homeowners would adopt the use of them, but every little bit helps.

For the home owner who is active in maintaining their yard and/or their garden, rain barrels are easy to maintain. They can be part of a complex system that captures roof runoff and then distributes it via tubes to irrigate plants. Or they can be very simple, and the distribution of the storm water relies on the home owner and a bucket or watering can.

You can purchase good rain barrels from Home Depot, Lowes, Menards, on-line, etc. Or you can make them yourself. Guides to make your own rain barrel are on-line and easily found. Also, there is, what appears to be a store on US 67 in Davenport that also advertises rain barrels on a front door sign.

Depending upon the design of a rain barrel and if water is not circulated through them regularly, they do have the potential to breed mosquitoes. Adding a small amount of liquid dish soap, vegetable oil, or mosquito dunks to your rain barrel every week will kill the mosquito larvae. It is safe to utilize water with any of these items in it on your yard plant and gardens. In addition to controlling mosquitos, here in Iowa, rain barrels should be drained every autumn.

The pay-back period on a rain barrel is very long. If you are contemplating the use of a rain barrel only to save costs on the purchase of water, then it is recommended you do not consider utilizing a rain barrel. If you want better quality water to water your yard and garden plants, then rain barrels will provide better quality water for plants. This is mostly because chlorine is not present in the captured storm water.

Some communities out west forbid the use of rain barrels. The water runoff is an essential component of downstream commercial agriculture and/or community water supply. In Iowa, generally, rain barrels are allowed, and their use is encouraged.

A PDF of this document can be found by clicking here.