Saving For a Rainy Day: How Rain Barrels Help With Urban Stormwater Pollution & Water Quality (3/28/2023)

Mar 29, 2023 Annie Cao

When it rains, it pours! Every year, about 10 trillion gallons of untreated stormwater runoff enter U.S. waterways and threaten our clean water supply. Using rain barrels has many benefits on our environment and water quality. Plus, it can save you some money over time!


infographic explaining what stormwater runoff is
image via Contra Costa Clean Water Program

What Is Stormwater Runoff?

During heavy storms, rainwater runs down roofs and driveways into the streets and storm drains. This is especially common in urban neighborhoods dominated by houses, buildings, and paved roads. Along the way, stormwater runoff picks up pollutants such as fertilizer, pesticides, toxic car chemicals, bacteria from animal waste, and more. Additionally, because urban areas are usually covered with nonporous surfaces like streets and parking lots, there’s a higher chance of flooding compared to natural landscapes.


large green rain barrel in apartment complex
image via NRDC

What Are Rain Barrels?

Rain barrels are large plastic containers that are usually elevated on a stand and connected to a downspout to collect rainwater. They come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 30 to 100 gallons and are available at home supply stores or online retailers. You can also DIY a rain barrel by repurposing large containers or buckets. If you don’t have a downspout, just place your containers wherever you’ll catch the most water.

Note: Be sure to check with your local municipality for rain barrels — they might offer them for free!


two gray rain barrels elevated on wood pallets in backyard garden
image via St. George News

How Do Rain Barrels Help the Environment?

Collecting rainwater is not only beneficial for the planet, but can help out homeowners too.

  • Harvesting rainwater helps prevent water runoff from being polluted. Collecting urban stormwater runoff and keeping it on-site prevents it from contaminating the water supply.
  • Collecting stormwater runoff reduces flooding. If there’s heavy rainfall, the water can back up storm drains, but collecting the runoff decreases the chances of flooding in urban areas.
  • It’s free water! The average roof can collect about 600 gallons of water per inch of rain. By catching stormwater runoff, you can save money when it comes to watering plants and washing your car or driveway. According to the EPA, rain barrels can save homeowners an average of 1300 gallons of water.
  • Catching rainwater helps create greener spaces. By watering the land with stormwater runoff, it creates a better habitat for animals and plants to thrive.


rainwater coming out of storm drain into rain barrel
image via Neave Group

A Few Things to Keep In Mind

Although harvesting rainwater is a great way to protect water quality and reduce stormwater pollution, there are a few things to note:

  • Stormwater can collect pollutants from roofs, so be cautious when watering edible crops, like a vegetable garden.
  • This also means rainwater is usually not safe to use as drinking water.
  • Rain barrels can weigh up to a few hundred pounds when filled with water — if you choose to elevate your rain barrel, make sure the platform made from strong materials such as wood, cinder blocks, or bricks.
  • In the case that your rain barrel overflows, make sure there’s a way to reallocate the excess water. For example, you could use an extra hose to move the water to a rain garden, flower bed, or dry patch in your yard.


Let us know in the comments if you use rain barrels or are looking into getting them for your home!

Cover image via Capitol Region Watershed District 


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Soak Up the Rain: Rain Barrels | US EPA

Saving Water and Money with Rain Barrels | Blog Posts | WWF

EPA Region 3 (Mid-Atlantic) | US EPA

Green Infrastructure – Rain Barrels | thewatershed.org

Sustainability Tip: Catch April showers in a rain barrel! | Indian Creek Nature Center

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