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Rain barrels offer a way to cut water costs, prevent runoff

Newton’s Department of Public Works has offered a discount for residents to purchase rain barrels to cut down on water costs and prevent rainwater runoff that can be harmful to the environment.

Customers who ordered barrels by the May 8 deadline will pick them up May 17 between 4 and 6 p.m. at the Newton Department of Public Works.

The city is partnering with The Great American Rain Barrel Company, and residents can choose from three different 55-gallon barrel options repurposed from shipping drums to reduce wasted materials. Rain diverters and polished river stones are also available for a discount to filter rainwater and maximize rain collection.

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“You’re catching the rainwater instead of just letting it run off and down the street,” said Maria Rose, an environmental engineer for the city of Newton. “When it rains, the storm water picks up pollutants along the way.”

Rose said pollutants such as trash and oil are found on streets. She said it’s better to capture stormwater directly from precipitation, decreasing the chance of pollution.

“There are more than 326 million trillion gallons of water on Earth. Yet only 1 percent is fresh and available for human consumption,” according to The Great American Rain Barrel website.

Emily Norton, Newton City Council member, said runoff takes with it “anything that is on those paved surfaces like fertilizer, pet waste and leaves.” Although leaves are natural, she said, when they end up in bodies of water, the nutrients can lead to invasive species and bacteria.

“We do have a problem with phosphorus pollution in the Charles River,” Norton said. “You want to be ideally collecting that water and reusing it on your property.”

Norton said the more rainwater that goes back into the ground and not into storm drains the better.

“Those storm drains don’t treat anything,” Norton said. “It’s not like the sewage treatment plant that has all kinds of processes to treat water before it’s discharged.”

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Rose said the Department of Public Works offers rain barrels in early May because summertime yields higher water bills and water use. Hot summer droughts contribute to increased water use when watering plants, lawns and gardens, she said, so rainwater reserves from rain barrels help cut costs and resources.

Norton said residents will be “more resilient” during a drought if they have a rain barrel. “We’re having suddenly much more frequent drought,” she said, explaining that droughts have been more prevalent in recent years.

Another reason residents may be interested in purchasing a rain barrel is to save money when watering, Rose said, and the amount each household will save is highly dependent on the weather, rainwater use and the number of barrels per family.

Newton’s water supply is generated from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, said Norton. “Our water is expensive,” Norton said. “We have excellent water, it tastes great, it’s very clean, but it’s very expensive.” Norton said residents can save on their water bills by using rainwater to water their gardens and lawns.

Rose said last year was the first year for Newton to offer rain barrels to residents after a hiatus that lasted a few years.

There was an influx of interest last year because of the years the barrels were not offered, Rose said, and the pandemic played a role in the increase of sales — with 108 barrels sold in 2021.

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“During the pandemic, there have been more people spending time on their own property. Therefore there’s more interest in rain barrels,” Rose said.

According to the Great American Rain Barrel website, around 40 percent of household water is used outdoors, even though gardens and lawns actually benefit more from natural rain water.

“Rainwater is a healthy, chlorine and chemical free water source for plants,” Rose said.

For more information, visit: www.greatamericanrainbarrel.com/community/newton/

Hannah DiPilato and Kendall Richards can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.