October 9, 2008

Is Lake Realizing ‘Green is Hot’?

By Mick Zawislak

[email protected]@dailyherald.com

With a winter that wouldn't end, keeping the garden watered with a renewable resource didn't seem to be at the top of many to-do lists in early April.

"Plus, with the economy being the way it is, I didn't think people would have the disposable income to buy rain barrels," said Mea Blauer, resource conservationist with the Lake County Soil & Water Conservation District.

But thanks to a surge in interest - and an extended online ordering period - 980 of the 60-gallon rain barrels were sold in the district's second annual joint effort with the Lake County Forest Preserve District and the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission.

That's more than twice the 467 barrels sold last year in the inaugural push. This year's supply has been exhausted, and no additional orders are being taken.

The barrels, which hold rain water to be reused for gardening or lawn care, among other things, were offered for $79, less than the $120 or more charged by retailers.

If this year's sale is any indication, Lake County area residents are getting the message about conserving water and saving on water bills. About 150 of the barrels went to McHenry County residents through a cooperative agreement with authorities there.

"I think there's a trend right now of people getting more environmentally conscious," Blauer said. "It's a very easy way to become green."

Residents everywhere are catching the fever, according to the Naperville-based Conservation Foundation. Rain barrels will be featured as street art in Lisle and Geneva, for example. The private conservation group is in constant consultation with various communities and other entities and has become a clearinghouse for the barrels.

"The audience is ripe for it. Green is hot," said Jim Kleinwachter, who heads the group's Conservation at Home program.

"We're around 1,000 in the last year ourselves. They were huge for Mother's Day gifts - people were fighting over them."

Because rain water is free of chemicals, such as chlorine, calcium or lime, the naturally softened source is also good for washing windows, cars or even your hair.

Another plus is that water collected in the barrels doesn't have a chance to run down pavement and pick up oil or other contaminants before going into a storm sewer and ultimately a local waterway.

"That's how pollution happens," said Blauer. "If they (barrels) filled up four times through spring and summer, we would keep 235,200 gallons of water out of the storm sewers."

That's a conservative estimate since one inch of rain on a 1,000- square-foot roof could yield 632 gallons.

Environmentalist are touting the barrels as part of an overall plan, for example to include rain gardens that allows homeowners to become greener and conserve resources.

Lake County Forest Preserve President Bonnie Thomson Carter also chairs the Northeastern Illinois Regional Water Supply Planning Group, which is studying water supply and demand per an executive order from Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"These are the types of conservation measures people can get excited about. These are easy things," she said.

(c) 2008 Daily Herald; Arlington Heights, Ill.. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.