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Enlightened rain-barrel-giveaway helps homeowners with water issues

Program with roots in Bloomberg Administration is big plus for city environment

June 25, 2024 Wayne Daren Schneiderman
Robert Olivari, community coordinator at the Department of Environmental Protection, with Assemblymember Lester Chang. Brooklyn Eagle photos by Wayne Daren Schneiderman
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BAY RIDGE — The heat and humidity was intense, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The thought of rain was the furthest thing from people’s minds, one might think. But quite the contrary — rain barrels were top of mind for hundreds of residents Sunday morning as they looked to put on their environmentally conscious hats and save a couple of bucks along the way.   

Several hundred community members gathered in Leif Ericson Park to get a free rain barrel courtesy of Assemblymember Lester Chang (D-49) in partnership with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Rain Barrel Giveaway Program.

200 rain barrels were given away at the event.
200 rain barrels were given away at the event.

The program is part of the NYC Green Infrastructure Plan, launched by Mayor Bloomberg over a decade ago. Its goal is to improve harbor water quality by capturing and retaining stormwater runoff before it enters the sewer system, which may contribute to sewer overflow.

Benefits of rain barrels 

Rain barrels can individually capture thousands of gallons of water each year and can be used for a myriad of outdoor chores, such as gardening and washing one’s car, in addition to washing clothes, bathing and more.

They can also help reduce the demand on the city’s drinking water system during drought conditions. Each barrel can collect up to 55 gallons of water.

Community members gathered as early as 8 a.m. Sunday to claim a free rain barrel.
Community members gathered as early as 8 a.m. Sunday to claim a free rain barrel.

Using a rain barrel can save money since outdoor chores can account for up to 40% of an average household’s water use during the summer, according to the EPA.

Robert Olivari, the DEP’s community coordinator, told the Brooklyn Eagle that every year, from the beginning of May until the end of August on weekends, it offers all local elected officials from state to federal an opportunity to distribute rain barrels. Last weekend, 200 rain barrels were given away.

“We tell them to pick a location and a time and date to do a giveaway for their constituency,” Olivari said. “But this year, we are going into the first week of September due to demand.”

Lester Chang staff member Henry Chan
Lester Chang staff member Henry Chan.

While the event began at 11 a.m., residents gathered at 8 a.m. to collect their barrels. The barrels began disappearing rapidly, and by 2 p.m., all were gone.

Overwhelming demand 

Chang, who represents Bath Beach, Bensonhurst, Borough Park and Dyker Heights, said that the response to the Rain Barrel Program has been overwhelming.

“We had 200 rain barrels today courtesy of the DEP, but nearly 600 people applied for them — online, in person in my office and via telephone,” he said.  

However, only one rain barrel per household would be given to homeowners who reside in Chang’s district. 

A woman taking her rain barrel home.
A woman taking her rain barrel home.

“So many of my constituents are homeowners, and unfortunately, we had to turn many away. But the plan is to contact those that didn’t receive one for the next event expected to be held in the same location on July 7,” Chang said. “I’m certainly hoping this will help with global warming, as recycling rainwater instead of taxing our water system is a better alternative.”  

Olivari explained that the DEP can only give a maximum of 200 rain barrels per event, which he said are purchased from a company in Canada. 

“We want to make sure that every elected official gets a fair chance to distribute them,” he said.

“These events are generally done in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx — not Manhattan, due to the abundance of apartment buildings there,” Olivari added.  

The installation of rain barrels requires minimum work and little maintenance, according to Olivari. They connect directly to the existing downspout to collect water for irrigation needs; homeowners then connect a hose in the spigot for irrigation purposes, such as watering lawns and gardens.

During winter, it is best to disconnect the barrel and store it in a shed or garage or keep the faucet open so water does not freeze, causing the barrel to crack.

Assemblymember Lester Chang was the driving force behind bringing the DEP’s Rain Barrel Giveaway Program to his district.
Assemblymember Lester Chang was the driving force behind bringing the DEP’s Rain Barrel Giveaway Program to his district.

Rain barrels may also be purchased independently for approximately $100 and up.

Incidentally, collecting and storing rainwater to use for later use has been in practice for over 2,000 years. History shows that ancient civilizations used forms of open cisterns carved in the ground to save water for a later time.

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