City promoting rain barrels for hills residents to help prevent erosion
on February 16, 2012
Terry Galloway has seen two fires decimate the Oakland Hills during the years he’s lived there—first in the early 70s, and then the 1991 firestorm that destroyed more than 3,500 homes, including his own. The aftermath of the fire, though, was devastating as well, Galloway remembers, especially when it started to rain.
“The runoff was a disaster,” he said. “Massive landslides, houses went down, the whole thing. So storm sewers are critical, but we don’t have storm sewers in the hills.”
The solution: getting rain barrels in the yards of as many houses in the hills as possible.
“What you want to do is contain the peak,” Galloway said, motioning to a pair of 60-gallon plastic rain barrels on the side of his house. “And that’s what these Mobys do.”
On Wednesday morning, Galloway finished installing a third rain barrel on his property, a 305-gallon tank that is attached to the back of his home and connected to the gutters on his roof, as part of an event to promote the City of Oakland Rain Barrel Program. The rainwater collected from the new tank will replace the tap water Galloway now uses to water his fruit trees. He has been using the water from two “Moby” brand rain barrels in his greenhouse for a couple of years as well.
Councilmember Jane Brunner (District 1), Lesley Estes of the City of Oakland’s Watershed and Storm Management division, and Matthew Freiberg of the Watershed Project, a Richmond-based nonprofit concerned with restoring and preserving local ecosystems, also attended the installation. Brunner said rain barrels are especially critical for hills residents because there is no water drainage from the hills.
“We’re eroding the hill, we’re making houses dangerous, and down at the bottom we are causing flooding in people’s basements,” Brunner said. “So I’m very excited that we have a rain barrel program.”
The city simply does not have the money it would take to install a storm drainage system throughout the hills, Estes said, or the room to build big tanks to hold the water. So following the lead of Galloway and other hills residents concerned about runoff, the city rolled out its rain barrel program in 2010. Hoping to increase involvement, the city partnered with the Watershed Project, last summer.
The city then received federal stimulus funds from the American Recovery Reinvestment Act, which enabled the city to offer rain barrels to residents with a 75 percent discount from retail prices. They are sold on the city’s web site and can be found at OaklandCreeks.org. Five rain barrel sizes are available—65, 130, 205, 305 and 620 gallons, from prices that range from $48.50 for the smallest to $641.85 for the largest barrel. Shapes and sizes differ, and colors can be matched to a home, and are typically attached to a roof gutter system.
“We need people to be purchasing and putting these rain barrels in their homes,” Estes said.
Galloway began installing the 305-gallon slim-line (or flat) barrel on Monday—he said it took about 45 minutes to move the barrel from his truck to the side of his house and attach it to the wall. On Wednesday, he, Freiberg and some volunteers completed the installation by attaching white plastic pipes from the barrel to the gutters on his roof. Soon, he said, the water collected will irrigate the six fruit trees just down the hill from the barrel. “All that was going down the drain,” Galloway said, motioning to the gutters.
Estes said that non-gardners in the hills are encouraged to get the barrels as well. There are outlets at the bottom of the barrels that can be used to hook up to a hose, but the barrels can also be used to simply drain slowly, which helps water flow down the hill more gradually. Rain barrels “are valuable even if you don’t have a garden to use it,” she said.
Galloway is hopeful he’ll start seeing more barrels in residences around the hills soon. “Rain is really what this erosion problem is all about,” he said. “We really want people in the steep areas to get them. It’s a very serious problem.”
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