Thursday, June 10, 2010

SACG’s New Tank Has Arrived With a Bang

Oh joy! What bliss! Our new 550 gallon water tank was delivered on Monday, hooked up on Tuesday evening and was full by noon on Wednesday with just one rain shower. The speed in which it was filled caught me off guard and I had not yet made arrangements to handle the overflow, but we will figure out something soon. It was also a lot wider than I had envisioned. (For some reason, I thought it would be about the same size as the water tank the Bexley Community Garden used last year).

As faithful readers may recall, in April, the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden and Build the Bridge of Ohio. Org applied for a grant from the City of Columbus (through the Health Department's Institute for Active Living Fund at The Columbus Foundation) to purchase a 500 gallon water tank in order to capture more rain water from the BTBO office roof, get the SACG through seasonal dry spells, support BTBO's new gardening program and assist us with a possible expansion of the SACG in the future. We ordered the tank from Rain Brothers
– who had donated four rain barrels to the SACG last year when we first broke ground. Rain Brothers purchases their tanks from a manufacturer in Lancaster – just down Highway 33 – which makes them from recycled plastic. Jonathan – one of the Rain Brothers – told me that the 550 gallon tank was actually less expensive than the 500 gallon tank. He had already sold out of tanks by the time I contacted him, so we had to wait for new ones to be manufactured.

Jonathan delivered the tank mid-Monday afternoon for free. Orlando and David were trimming the walnut tree next to BTBO, but helped me move the barrels from the east to the west side of the BTBO offices and build a platform for the tank. Jeff (our newest gardener) helped us siphon water from the full barrels to the empty barrels (because he already had the perfect tool for the job) and then Orlando wanted to show off his ability to bench-press 300 pounds by carrying full barrels and empty partially-full barrels into our new tank. (We'll overlook that he dropped my car keys into a full rain barrel so that we had to empty it, too).

Yesterday, I brought one of my inline manual diverters over and picked up a new downspout to divert rain water into the new tank. Jonathan then came over early in the evening and cut a small hole into the tank so that we could divert the rain water into that small hole. I wanted the tank to be hooked up as soon as possible because the forecast called for a 40% chance of rain. I was not disappointed. (Although May was pretty much a monsoon here in Columbus, the rainy season could stop without notice).

This morning, I snuck over during the monsoon rain to ensure that the tank and barrels were collecting rain water. To my amazement, the tank was almost full. The barrels, however, had not been positioned (by me) correctly (and two of them still had their faucets turned on from when we were siphoning water). I immediately corrected that problem. I then created a make-shift overflow system for the other side of the diverter for when the tank became full. Then, I called Orlando just before lunch to alert him to the fact that the tank was about to overflow and that he could flip the diverter switch to divert the water into the other downspout. However, when he hit the switch, the downspout fell to the ground because I had not properly secured it. Sigh.

This evening, and with Jeannie's help, I connected another downspout to the alternative side of the diverter (and to the flexible piping which Orlando left for me). This will empty the rain water into the grass well away from the BTBO office foundation. I also connected another downspout to the west side of the BTBO office and connected that to the lead rain barrel on that side of the building. (We will have four rain barrels on the west side of the building in the event that we have an extended drought or someone inadvertently or mischievously empties the tank). We will no longer have to depend on water dripping from the gutter into just the perfect spot on the rain barrel.

With all of the rain we've received in the last 24 hours, we should not need to water much this week. However, we should now have collected enough rain water to get us through the next few weeks even if it does not rain again. It is amazing to think that we could have hooked up a similar tank to BTBO's other 3 downspouts and collected over 3000 gallons of rain water from just one rain shower.

A friend of mine had previously questioned me about how we would fill such a large tank. She kept asking me if we intended to ask the Columbus Fire Department to fill it for us. It never occurred to her that we could quickly fill the tank with rain coming off one building roof. As the Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed (FLOW) explained to me a few years ago (and is explained on Rain Brother's website), an average sized Columbus, Ohio roof can collect over 20,000 gallons of rain water in a year. That's water just going down the downspouts, flooding alleys and streets, flowing into nearby storm sewers and flowing into Alum Creek. If more people used rain barrels to collect rain (even for just their home gardens and houseplants), we could decrease the amount of storm water runoff and erosion and pollution in Alum Creek. We could also save money by not using city water (which is expected to triple in price over the next five years). Besides, our plants prefer warm, non-chlorinated water to cold, chlorinated water. The federal government sees the wisdom of this and provided subsidies to organizations (like FLOW) to provide rain barrels at a reduced cost to city residents.

I had already bought three rain barrels for my own home from Rain Brothers back in 2007 (when they still delivered rain barrels for free in their biodiesel truck and painted them a deep forest green for a slightly extra fee). My neighbors are such fans that several of them have added barrels to their homes as well. (I can fit a single barrel into the back seat of my VW Jetta). Rain Brothers has excellent customer service and adds products and even redesigns their home-made products after receiving customer feedback. (They even named one of their barrels after me when I shared with them an observation I had about my own barrels).

Another reason I buy from Rain Brothers is because Jonathan is a long, long time community gardener. He won Outstanding Community Gardener of the Year just a few years ago. He came up with the idea for making a business out of harvesting rain water from his volunteer work with what is now called Four Seasons Farm – just a few blocks west of the SACG on the near East Side of Columbus. They didn't have any more money than we do to pay for water to support their community gardening/urban farming program, so he began building rain barrels for them. Harvesting rain water from neighboring roofs is a big factor in why the SACG is sustainable in the long-term. We do not have much overhead and have benefitted greatly from the generosity of our friends, neighbors and strangers in the greater Columbus and Bexley communities.

For those thinking about how they could reduce their own water bills by using rain water, Rain Brothers offers a variety of products (many of which I have seen demonstrated only on PBS's This Old House), and in a variety of colors, like expandable rain bladders that will fill under your deck, underground cisterns, and solar-powered or electric water pumps to irrigate your lawn just like you do with city water. The possibilities are endless. While the tanks come in dirty white and black, the barrels come in a wide variety of colors and styles.

We SACG gardeners love our rain barrels. Two of our most active volunteer-gardeners -- Barb & Frank -- make their own rain barrrels for their own home. Betty and I bonded with them when we were soliciting the neighbors to join the SACG last year and they showed us their home-made barrels.

However, as much as I love our barrels, the tank will help me sleep easier because I don't have to worry as much now about droughts or it getting stolen. Now I can worry about other things . . . . . . At my Bible Study last month, my group began encouraging me to start thinking about running an underground hose from the tank and installing a pump so that my gardeners would not have to carry their water to and from the tank and garden in a watering can. However, that is where I get most of my exercise these days and so that it unlikely to change in the short-term:)

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