The city of Cleveland soon will start distributing 400 rain barrels free of charge to city residents.
The barrels will reduce the amount of rain water flowing into storm sewers and the amount of pollution flowing into rivers, streams and Lake Erie, according to officials of the city and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.
In addition, teenage students enrolled in the city’s Youth Opportunities Unlimited Program will be paid to assemble the rain barrels and install them at residents’ homes. The homeowners, however, will be responsible for diverting the stormwater from downspouts into the rain barrels.
“The students obviously get some employment for the summer,” said Kristin Hall, who helps organize the rain barrel program for the city’s Office of Sustainability. “It’s a chance for them to make some extra money, but I’m hoping they get an education piece as well – learning about why we have rain barrels and why we’re using them.”
The rain barrels divert water from sewers that frequently become overloaded, she said. In older areas where combined sewers handle stormwater and sewage, polluted water may overflow the sewers, tainting waterways.
Each of the barrels can hold about 50 gallons of stormwater, which can then be used for watering lawns and gardens, washing cars, or other outdoor chores.
Installing rain barrels, in addition to reducing pollution, can also reduce water bills and reduce a stormwater management fee that the Regional Sewer District soon plans to impose.
The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District has committed about $24,000 to Cleveland’s rain barrel program this year. The city also may use some of the money to construct rain gardens that divert stormwater from the sewers.
“It’s a great opportunity to raise awareness for onsite stormwater management,” said Linda Mayer-Mack, an environmental education specialist with the Regional Sewer District.
The district is in the process of putting together a stormwater management fee credit program, which it plans to unveil in late July, according to Mayer-Mack. Residents who install rain barrels capable of capturing 50 percent of the rainwater from a home’s roof will be eligible for a credit on their sewer bill, she said.
The city and the sewer district launched the rain barrel program in 2008. During its first year, the city offered only 300 barrels to residents, but it now makes 400 available annually. The residents keep the barrels once student workers install them, but residents must remove them during winter months to avoid damage to the barrels resulting from the water freezing. The city is still working to reduce a waiting list of residents who want the free barrels.
Information about the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s stormwater plan is available online at www.NEORSD.org/stormwater.php. Information about the city’s Office of Sustainability is available at portal.cleveland-oh.gov/CityofCleveland/Home/Government/CityAgencies/PublicUtilities/Sustainability.