For the past seven years, Houston Public Works has been helping Houston residents conserve water by selling 50-gallon recycled plastic rain barrels twice a year at a reduced rate. This year’s event was its largest ever and yielded its largest number of barrels sold.
HPW usually sells about 450 barrels at the biannual events, but the department sold nearly 1,500 barrels at the most recent one and placed an additional 2,500 barrels in a wait list. Prior to this year, the most rain barrels Houston Public Works sold to the public was 779 back in 2015. Houston Water estimates that this year’s event can reduce up to 4.4 million gallons of water usage in a year.
“We were astonished and so incredibly happy about these numbers,” said Yvonne Forrest, Houston Water director.
The market value for these barrels is around $100 or more per barrel. Typically, Houston Public Works sells the barrels for $72. For the first time this year, Houston Water provided an additional $20 incentive for each of the first 1,200 rain barrels to Houston Water customers. This brought down the price to $52 to Houston Water customers and $72 to non-Houston Water customers.
“Houston Water provided this discount on the first 1,200 rain barrels sold to Houston Water customers, who could purchase up to two discounted barrels per household,” said Sharon Citino, Houston Water’s planning director.
Full-price rain barrels were also available for purchase by the general public, with no household limit.
According to Citino, rain barrels collect rainwater that can be used to water lawns and gardens. This reduces customer demand on the city’s water plants and saves customers money on their monthly water bill.
“Rain barrels also help prevent pollution from entering our waterways. They do this by capturing rainwater that would otherwise run off properties and into the city’s storm drains. This runoff is often polluted through contact with lawn chemicals and other contaminants. If we prevent runoff from entering storm drains, we protect our waterways,” said Citino.
While the rainwater that runs off a typical residential roof into the barrels is usually clean, Steve Stelzer, Green Building Resource Center Program Director, said there is a possibility of debris and contaminants from a roof collecting in the water.
“The rainwater should be limited to non-potable uses, or uses that do not involve drinking,” he said. “However, it is great to use for activities such as watering your lawn or garden — plants prefer non-treated rainwater — washing your pets and cars, and even flushing your toilet.”
Sarah Robinson, senior community liaison and Houston Water’s programs development lead, said the barrels have a spigot near the bottom where a hose can be attached. The water will then flow out of the hose like it would any other garden hose.
“Depending on how high above the ground you place your barrel, the pressure may be slightly different than your typical garden hose. The higher off the ground you place your barrel, the greater the water pressure should be,” she said.
Houston Water officials calculated that an average 50-gallon rain barrel at a residence in Houston saves about 2,880 gallons per year when used regularly. This is based on an average-sized house with a 2,000-square-foot roof and average local annual rainfall based on data from the past 10 years. That can prevent about 2,880 gallons of runoff from entering streets and waterways and instead be used for outdoor watering and other purposes, thus reducing the use of treated water, they say.
“If 1,500 barrels are installed and regularly used, this event has the potential to save over 4.3 million gallons of water annually,” Robinson explained.
Paula Paciorek, Water Programs and Education manager, said despite living in a region with a lot of rain, conserving water resources is still incredibly important in the greater Houston area.
“In Houston, rain barrels are a great way to save water while nourishing your plants and reducing pollution to our waterways. Plus, when used regularly they can save money on your water bill,” Paciorek said.
Houston Public Works provides high-quality rain barrels at a discounted rate. You can learn more at www.rainbarrelprogram.org/Houston.