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Stormwater management for nature and profit

Warm spring weather brings people outdoors to garden and maintain their lawns, which often means a great deal of watering.

According to Maria Myers, recycling manager at the Bureau of Solid Waste with the Carroll County Department of Public Works, conserving the amount of fresh water used outdoors is important and can help save on water bills.

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"One way to help save on tap water use is to use a rain barrel or catchers to collect and store rain water from rooftops for lawn and garden use. The water collected in the rain barrel would normally flow off the roof or through roof gutters and downspouts becoming storm water runoff," Myers said.

A rain barrel is a large plastic cylinder with an open or screened top and a spigot in the bottom, according to Myers. Placed beneath a home's downspout, the barrel collects storm water which can later be gravity-fed out of the spigot.

"The water harvested is soft, fresh water that can be used for a variety of purposes, including lawn and garden watering, topping off pools, and washing cars, windows, cleaning outdoor furniture and garden tools and even for flushing toilets. Natural rain water has the pH level ideal for water and plant growth," Myers said.

Not only can diverting storm water help conserve the fresh water supply, it also helps the environment by simply slowing the flow of storm water across myriad surfaces, according to Katie Dix, a program coordinator at Blue Water Baltimore, a nonprofit group that focuses on restoring and preserving waterways.

"People think rain is clean because it comes from the sky. The reality is that it is falling on our rooftops and our driveways and it is picking up a lot of pollutants and trash along the way, then flowing into our storm drains untreated," Dix said.

Collecting storm water and using it to irrigate helps filter out pollutants, according to Dix, and also helps reduce the overall volume of run off, which she says can also be problematic.

"When you have so much [storm water] running on impervious surfaces, such as driveways, it picks up a lot of speed and erodes a lot of soil. That can lead to our drain pipes being damaged, which can lead to increased maintenance fees," Dix said.

Carroll County homeowners will have a chance to begin diverting storm water between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on April 27, when the Carroll County Government Office of Recycling will offer rain barrels and compost bins for sale at TownMall of Westminster.

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The Office of Recycling will offering the 55 gallon capacity FreeGarden RAIN rain barrel for $60 and the FreeGarden EARTH compost bin for $50, with cash, check or credit card accepted.

Myers said that while Carroll County has offered rain barrels for sale every year since 2009, this is the first year that people will be able to order in advance and pick up their rain barrel at the event. Those interested in advance purchase should go to http://enviroworld.ca/pre-order.

According to Dix, 55 to 60 gallons is a fairly average capacity for commercially built rain barrels and a storm that produces one inch of rain will easily fill such a barrel.

Those interested in estimating just how much water can be collected with a rain barrel given a particular roof size can make a few measurements and calculations.

According to information provided by Environmental Scientist, Steven Donohue of the Environmental Protection Agency Mid-Atlantic Region, the amount of run off from a roof can be calculated by multiplying the amount of rain received in terms of feet by the square footage of a roof.

As an example, one inch of rainfall can be converted into feet by dividing by 12; 1 / 12 = 0.08 feet. For a 150 square foot roof, you would multiply the amount of rainfall, 0.08 feet, times the size of the roof, 150, to get 12 cubic feet of run off. To convert cubic feet to gallons, you multiply 12 by 7.4805 to get 89.7 gallons; more than enough to fill one of the rain barrels from the Carroll County Government Office of Recycling.

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Rain barrels should be emptied between storms in order to maximize the amount of water diverted from running directly into storm drains, and reduce any issues with mosquitoes, Dix said.

According to Myers, the FreeGarden RAIN rain barrels come with an insect resistant steel screen to help reduce any mosquito issues, but that she said the barrels should still be emptied and cleaned regularly.

"A capful of bleach can be put into the barrel periodically and will not hurt plants. Empty and disconnect the barrel at least once per year and clean with soap and water or a biodegradable cleaner. Allow to dry before reinstalling and empty and remove the barrel before freezing weather," Meyers said.

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