By Laetitia Clayton - firstname.lastname@example.org
Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River is making it easier for people to conserve water at home and help make local waterways cleaner.
The group is offering three workshops this year through the Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation Department called "Make and Take Your Own Rain Barrel." Two of the classes will be held in May and one in September.
Lynne Phillips, who owns Natural Art Garden Center in Toms Brook, will lead one of the rain barrel workshops there on May 26.
Phillips says participants will not only learn how to assemble a rain barrel and install it, but also why it's important to have one.
"You're going to learn an awful lot in a short amount of time," she says.
Those who take the workshop will get a 55-gallon recycled pickle barrel, supplied by Clean Virginia Waterways, and will learn how to drill holes to install a spigot in the barrel, Phillips says. A garden hose can be attached to the spigot to use for watering once the barrel has collected rain. There is also an opening for overflow near the top of the barrel, and each barrel needs a screen on top to catch debris.
A rain barrel is positioned against the side of a house or building where a downspout can drain rainwater from the roof into it. The downspout will usually need to be cut using a hacksaw so that the barrel fits under it.
The conserved water can be used for various purposes, Phillips says, such as watering gardens and potted flowers and filling bird baths. The water should not be used for drinking, however.
For a typical residential roof -- about 1,000 square feet -- a rain barrel can save 20,000 to 40,000 gallons of water a year in this area, Phillips says.
In addition to recycling rainwater, the barrels help to slow storm-water runoff, which contains sediments and contaminants that flow back into storm drains and watersheds. "It's managing your storm water," she says.
Natural Art Garden Center uses other methods to manage stormwater, as well.
"We have a fourfold system," Phillips says -- rain barrels, a living roof, a rain garden and dry creek beds. The garden center also uses a drip irrigation system in the greenhouse to save water when watering the hanging baskets of various flowers and plants.
Phillips held a workshop on making a rain garden earlier this month, which was also part of the Friends of the North Fork class offerings. But, she says, rain barrels are one of the easiest and cheapest water-conserving methods for most homeowners. The barrels are gravity fed, meaning there is no pump or electricity to use. This can sometimes result in a low flow from the hose, but sitting the barrel up higher using bricks can help.
Barrels do need to be put away during winter, she says, because the water can freeze and crack the barrel.
Phillips says she isn't aware of any regulations concerning rain barrels, but they do need to be "food-grade" barrels, with no oils or other contaminants that could harm plants or animals.
She encourages everybody to install a rain barrel.
"We need to put rain barrels in. It's the right thing to do," she says. "We live too close to the Shenandoah River not to do it. If we want to be able to pass on clean waterways to our grandchildren, this is an easy way to start that."
The rain barrel workshops cost $39 for Friends members and $49 for nonmembers, which includes taking the barrel home. Phillips says just buying a rain barrel outright at a home improvement store or garden center can cost $50 and up. But because of a grant from Clean Virginia Waterways and support from Rodney Shepherd of Woodbury Financial Services in Mt. Jackson, the classes are offered for a lower cost.
Phillips will also have rain barrels for sale at the garden center. Proceeds from her barrel sales and from the workshop will go to the Friends, she said.
For more information or to register for a class, call the Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation Department at 984-3030 or go online to www.scpr.info. For information on Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, call 459-8550 or visit www.fnfsr.org.