August 7, 2008

Having a Water Barrel of Fun / At Workshop, Scouts Learn About Dangers of Too Much Runoff

"Well, it starts with rain," says Mara Moran, 12, a Girl Scout with Troop 1706 in Cheverly, Md. "My teacher says that the water we drink is the same water the cavemen drank.""Yeah, people think you can make water, but you can't," says Deirdre Harder, 9, as she helps Mara push a big plastic barrel.

"It doesn't regenerate," adds Emily Castelli, 13, who is tugging at the same barrel. "It's the same water over and over we get from rain filling the rivers and lakes and things."

"We have to learn how to keep that water clean," pipes in Helen Marie Castelli, 11, Emily's cousin, during a workshop to learn about rain barrels.

The workshop took place beside the Anacostia River, which flows past the U.S. Capitol and the new Washington Nationals baseball park, before joining the Potomac River across from Reagan National Airport.

The Anacostia is said to be one of the dirtiest rivers in the country. By learning to make rain barrels, the Scouts were working on their water badges and helping the river at the same time.

"Those little raindrops are something," says Jim Connolly, who heads the Anacostia Watershed Society and has a rain barrel at home in Arlington. "Just an inch of rain - which is a good-sized summer storm - falling on the roof of an average house around here will collect about 1,200 gallons of water. Imagine what a shopping mall parking lot or highway collects!

"The problem is that it rushes all kinds of bad stuff - trash and grease and fertilizers and chemicals - into the river quickly, killing the fish and vegetation, and eroding the shorelines. We don't have factories or farms in Washington polluting our rivers. It's this runoff rainwater."

Last year, Maryland began requiring that new and renovated buildings have a way to catch rainwater, Connolly says.

Someday, he says, "all new homes and commercial buildings... will have to save rainwater because it's the simplest and cheapest way to protect the rivers. If we capture the storm water - using it to water our gardens or just drain it out a few days after a storm - the rivers know how to clean themselves."

But you don't have to wait to have a rain barrel, says Barry Chenkin, who runs the Anacostia workshops and started a company called Aquabarrel.

At the workshop the Scouts attended, several adults wanted to buy barrels and other equipment from Chenkin. A lucky few got free barrels that the Scouts assembled, gluing in spigots and flow pipes that connect to a home's downspouts.

Each of the 55-gallon barrels, which once held such products as salad dressing or tomato sauce, can collect about 1,300 gallons of rainwater during the summer, Chenkin says.

When Mara told her science teacher and classmates about the barrel project, "everybody thought it was cool," she says.

"Now we think we're going to make one for our school," she adds proudly.

Want to build a rain barrel?

- In Chesterfield County: About 180 barrels were made during six workshops held from April to July, according to Susan A. Edwards of the Chesterfield County Cooperative Extension.

- In Henrico County: A workshop is scheduled for Oct. 18 at the Henrico Harvest Fair. Registration will be limited to 30 people, and there is a fee. A registration form will be posted soon at

- In Richmond: A workshop sponsored by Clean Water Virginia is scheduled for tomorrowAug. 6 at Forest Hill Park. The class is full.

- Prince George County: The James River Soil and Water Conservation District will post dates for fall rain barrel workshops, primarily for Prince George residents, on its Web site,

- In Farmville: Clean Virginia Waterways plans to hold a workshop Sept. 30 or Oct. 2. Also included will be a "train the trainer" session for nonprofit groups that want to learn how to present rain-barrel programs in their communities. For details, see the Longwood University link below.

Find out more about making rain barrels at these sites:

- (type "rain barrel" in the search box) The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has a "Build Your Own Rain Barrel" brochure. The four-page brochure has how-to information, photos and drawings, cost considerations and other resources.

- The Longwood University site has illustrated instructions for building your own rain barrel, including the tools and supplies you'll need.


Originally published by The Washington Post.

(c) 2008 Richmond Times - Dispatch. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.