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Rain barrels allow Milwaukeeans to help solve sewer problems


As last week's deluge of rain reminded us, spring and its showers are not far away and that means Milwaukee's ongoing sewer overflow issues will likely return. Although you might feel powerless to change the situation, every Milwaukee area homeowner can do something to alleviate the problem.

One simple solution is to divert some of the water that drains into the sewer system into a rain barrel.

"Rain barrels are very very cool and the Housing Authority has used then in a cooperative arrangement with MMSD where we've put a couple hundred of these in place at scattered site at public housing units and the residents use that water to water their lawns or vegetable gardens," says Department of City Development Commissioner Rocky Marcoux. The Milwaukee Communuity Service Corps painted them and did the installation.

"In a real way it allows the average citizen to say they've impacted the situation. The less water we send to Jones Island allows us more capacity to treat the real sewage. It's an absolutely great system. It's a good way to get the average citizen involved in improving water quality."

The barrels are available from many places, but in Milwaukee two good sources are Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful (KGMB) and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District (MMSD).

"The rain barrels are just one of the solutions to sewer overflow," says Erin Kanuckel, program specialist for KGMB, a private, non-profit organization founded in 1983 to, according to its mission statement, "create sustainable communities through clean, healthy, and beautiful neighborhoods for generations to come."

Residents purchase the barrel, which KGMB sells for $35, and connect it to one of their downspouts, allowing that water that would normally go into the storm sewers to instead be channeled into the barrel. A spout at the bottom allows homeowners to connect a hose and use the water to irrigate gardens and lawns. A long overflow hose at the top allows extra water to drain off at a safe distance from the home.

The barrels are covered to keep out mosquitoes and other insects.

"There has been (demand for the barrels)," says Kanuckel, "Especially because the City of Milwaukee is looking for alternative ways to deal with the overflow and because it allows residents to be part of the solution."

According to the MMSD Web site, the district has sold nearly 2,500 barrels to date.

Kanuckel says that from September to December 2005, KGMB sold 35 barrels and it is looking to get the word out to increase those numbers.

"We would definitely like to boost the sales of the rain barrel and we're offering installation workshops at the Milwaukee Public Market," Kanuckel says, adding that the durable barrels - recycled from pickle barrels -- are easily installed.

"The quality is really good. We're really proud of the quality control. You need to disconnect the downspout, but we give (buyers) an installation tip sheet. We're trying to have lots of workshops here at KGMB (1313 W. Mount Vernon Ave.), at the Mitchell Domes and at the Public Market. In fall we hope to collaborate with Fondy food market on workshops for the barrels and composting."

KGMB hosts four workshops at the Public Market in the Third Ward during the spring/summer season. The next one is slated for Tuesday, April 18.

Although many people wonder how their barrel can affect a system the size of Milwaukee's, Marcoux says that homeowners can add more than one barrel and even if they opt for one, every little bit of rain water that stays out of the city's storm sewers helps.

"You can run the barrels in series which provides even more storage opportunity if you want to save up water for irrigation and really not any water to the (city) system," he says.

"You start adding all up, (even installing a single barrel) makes a big difference over the long haul. It essentially is adding capacity to the system. Because we're diverting water that would normally have to be processed."

Information on purchasing 50-55-gallon rain barrels from KGMB is on the group's Web site, kgmb.org, which also has information on other green initiatives in Milwaukee.

MMSD's approximately 55-gallon barrels (which began their lives as cucumber storage barrels) sell for $23 and may be ordered via its Web site, mmsd.com/rainbarrel/what.cfm.

Talkbacks

haaz | June 11, 2008 at 8:48 p.m. (report)

shoot, wish I had some in place after the storms! need to bug our landlord about that...

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OMCreader | April 17, 2006 at 10:25 a.m. (report)

conservation said: Once again lots of talk, probably not much action. How many people that read this article will actually purchase one? If you're reading about it, then you are obvisouly interested in the topic. Stop talking and reading about it, and do something about it! I went out and bought 2, and I'll use the water for a garden. Win - win situation here.

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OMCreader | March 17, 2006 at 11:49 a.m. (report)

annoyed said: Nice reasoning Skeffert. You should be on right wing radio, or maybe a televangalist.

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OMCreader | March 17, 2006 at 8:04 a.m. (report)

Cozen Beguile said: Skeffert- That was funny, I loved your humor. Keep up the good work. PEACE!

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OMCreader | March 16, 2006 at 4:23 p.m. (report)

Skeffert said: Judging from the rhetoric around here lately, I'm pretty sure gay marriage is to blame for our wastewater woes. No rain barrels or other feel-good hippie conservation measures are going to appease the wrath of God, in Whose hands lies the fate of the Great Lakes. He is angry at the abomination of homosexual unions, and the pollution of Lake Michigan is but one manifestation of His rage. Also, he hates hippies and their environmental efforts. Therefore, the Almighty commands that we exploit the resources He has bestowed upon us. Otherwise, it would be as if we didn't appreciate the gifts he has given mankind (we'd be regifting God's gifts!), and whoa unto him that scorns the treasures He has given.

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