By Diana Dunn
Oaklanders recently did a rain dance. Water conscious city residents attended a free rain barrel workshop at the end of January hosted by The Watershed Project with help from our partners at the City of Oakland, the Urban Farmer Store, Dig Cooperative, and Merritt College. The free workshop was part of the Oakland Rain Barrel Program (ORBP), which uses federal stimulus funds to offer rain barrels at discounted prices to Oakland residents, primarily those who live on property at risk of erosion.
At the workshop, historical maps showed the transformation of a lush and green Bay Area to highly urban cityscape. Workshop attendees were stunned when Greening Urban Watersheds Project Manager Matt Freiberg pointed out that the City of Oakland is now, “70% impervious, meaning that water that would normally soak into the ground, now rushes over our streets and sidewalks, directly into storm drains.” This unnatural water flow leaves local watersheds in bad shape. Rain carries sediment and pollutants from the chemical- and oil-laden city street into local creeks, destroying water quality and reducing habitat for wildlife. Freiberg pointed out that Low Impact Design (LID) projects like rain barrels are “instrumental in restoring and protecting our watersheds because they help slow the flow of water into stormdrains.”
Workshop attendees were able to get their hands dirty during a demo installation of a rain barrel with Ingrid Severson from DIG Cooperative. Severson showed workshop attendees how much rain they could collect from their roofs. Participants experienced firsthand how easy it is to install a rain barrel to the downspout from their gutters. They also learned how to link multiple barrels together in a ‘daisy chain‘ in order to increase storage capacity.
Watershed Project Intern Diana Dunn inspired workshop participants to take their rain recycling to the next level. “Your next steps should be baby steps,” Dunn told workshop participants. “Rain gardens and bioswales are perfect Low Impact Design (LID) options to be used in conjunction with a rain barrel system, because they require less technical experience.” Rain gardens and bioswales typically feature native plants, are installed in a natural depression in the landscape, and can be watered by rain barrel overflow.
Oaklanders learned that there are many green infrastructure options to manage storm water. LID options like green walls and roofs help insulate buildings, and make them more energy efficient by reducing heating and cooling costs. Flow through planters and tree box filters act as reservoirs, where layers of soil and plant roots can filter out some heavy metals and other harmful substances found in rainwater runoff. Pervious paving in parking lots, driveways, or alleys helps rainwater soak into the ground and recharge a parched water table. Workshop attendees were asked to envision Oakland as a city that could be transformed by implementing LID strategies in their community and households.
Become a rain recycler, and participate in the Oakland Rain Barrel Program. Discounts on rain barrels will only last for a limited time, so don’t miss out! For more information on how you can get a FREE Rain Barrel rain barrel, visit www.oaklandpw.com/rainbarrel or call the Urban Farmer Store at (510) 524-1604.