The benefits of investing in rain barrels are manifold, and Commissioner Tom Mannix has been citing these positives as bait to hook residents on the idea.
In Forest Park, where sewers back up into basements when heavy rains fall, rain barrels can mitigate the problem by intercepting at least some of the water, thus keeping it out of the combined sewer system. Water that would otherwise go into the sewer, and possibly back up into residents’ basements, could instead be used to water plants or clean cars – two examples Mannix cited. Though this alone would not solve the sewer system’s capacity issues, by using water captured in the barrels, he said, residents consume less water, which is a win-win, economically and environmentally.
Homeowners using the barrels usually connect them to a downspout and gutter water runs off into the bin. The barrels should be placed on a pervious surface, according to literature from the City of Chicago, which, several years back launched a promotional campaign to promote purchasing the barrels. If water in the barrel overflows, it will soak into the ground and not run off elsewhere. In addition to conservation, a hose connected to the barrel allows cars to be washed or garden plants to be watered.
Residents can snag these rain barrels from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD), which is eager to unload them before the cold weather sets in, and at reasonable rates, Mannix said.
“It’s not too late for people to get them,” said Patricia Young, manager of public affairs for MWRD. The weather is still warm, she said, and even when it does cool off, the barrels can just be flipped over when they’re not being used.
“Anyone who resides in Cook County can take advantage of this program,” Mannix said. “It’s very low cost, relative to the standard retail cost of the rain barrel.”
MWRD sells 55-gallon barrels for $51 and limits the purchases to two barrels per homeowner. (Young wasn’t sure why there is a cap on the number that can be bought). Some retailers sell the same barrels for over $200.
Young also said that Forest Parkers can purchase the barrels through MWRD and a third party will deliver them. Residents can also go to the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant, 6001 W. Pershing Rd. in Cicero, at designated pick-up times to grab the barrels.
Mannix is encouraging residents to contact MWRD and buy the barrels themselves, but he said he’d get behind a village-sponsored effort to purchase and sell the barrels to Forest Parkers if there were a groundswell of interest.
“If there is widespread support, I would have no problem … bringing it in on a sales basis and having folks pick them up from our public works,” Mannix said.
“I am definitely in favor of them [rain barrels],” said Commissioner Mark Hosty, in an email. “Anything that can reduce the amount of water entering the sewers would help.”
In a voice message he left with the Forest Park Review, Commissioner Chris Harris said he hopes the rain barrels are not being pushed as a “fix-all” to the sewer system’s problems.
Harris said the village should educate residents about other ways to decrease the amount of water entering the sewers.
“My biggest thing would be disconnecting downspouts, and running them away from your home. … That’s a major contributor [to sewer backup],” Harris said. “We don’t have anything in place educating people about that and penalizing people for not doing that. It’s only really looked at when property changes hands.”
Commissioner Rory Hoskins said he’d be interested in talking with Mannix about the idea.
Both Hoskins and Hosty recalled, a few years back, that the village sold the barrels on a small scale.
“We sold them for $50 each, and that is what they cost us to purchase from a local manufacturer who I believe made them as a hobby,” Hosty said. “I purchased two and they worked great.”
Mayor Anthony Calderone expressed support for the “idea” of rain barrels, but said that when the village sold barrels, some time between 2008 and 2009, it required a lot of staff time.
“We decided to continue our efforts by directing interested people to the MWRD website (MWRD.org) wherein they can purchase barrels directly,” the mayor wrote in an email.
“Now is the perfect opportunity to buy,” said Young. “Then you’ll have it for the spring rains.”