By Jamie McCarthy, Kalamazoo River Watershed Council
The Kalamazoo area has experienced record rainfall and major flooding over the past few years, increasing runoff and pollution to our river. Especially in the face of a changing climate, we want to encourage residents to think about ways they can use things like rain barrels to their advantage and help reduce polluted runoff.
Water that typically sheds off roofs, runs down driveways, and vanishes into storm drains can be collected and stored in rain barrels and used to irrigate garden beds and water lawns. Partnering with several incredible organizations—we were able to offer 350 residents in the Kalamazoo Metro area a low-cost rain barrel.
“When we started advertising the sale in March, there was still snow on the ground. Residents were thinking about shoveling sidewalks and brushing snow off their cars. I thought no one would be thinking about installing a rain barrel and watering gardens. By the end of our sale hundreds of citizens had ordered rain barrels,” said Mike Wetzel, Superintendent of Environmental Services for the City of Kalamazoo.
Before the frost had left the ground, residents lined up to pick up their new “upcycled” rain barrels that once held pickles and olives before being retrofitted to collect rain water.
“It seemed only fitting that, as the line of cars entering the rain barrel distribution point grew to several dozen, a drenching rain began to fall.” said Gary Wager, Executive Director of the Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition.
Two university student groups, Students for Sustainable Earth and BioClub gave countless demonstrations of how to install and use rain barrels. “These students helped make the day both educational and fun,” remarked Dr. Denise Keele of the WMU Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program.
Armed with upcycled rain barrels, citizens are ready to start collecting a valuable natural resource. Perhaps more importantly, these old plastic pickle barrels symbolize a paradigm shift. Citizens recognize the value in repurposing an old vessel, conserving water resources, and taking the initiative to personally change one small aspect of their homes. Their perception of stormwater is changing from refuse to resource.