Reducing outdoor water use


California’s year-round sun and ideal weather can help grow beautiful gardens and lawns, but often it can require large amounts of water to keep plants looking great. Reducing outdoor water use doesn’t have to mean changing a beautiful garden oasis though – just being creative about where the water comes from. A low-cost way to capture free rainwater is with rain barrels.

Rain barrels are containers which capture rainwater runoff from the roofs of homes and buildings. Rain barrels and their larger counterparts, cisterns, can be useful in arid regions where they store water from rainy months for use in drier months, or allow water to slowly percolate into the ground. This is especially relevant to San Diego County, where 80% of rainfall occurs between the months of December and March. The average annual rainfall in San Diego County ranges from 9.9 inches to as much as 40 inches per year, and only one inch of rain over a 1,000 square foot roof can generate up to 600 gallons of water.

Rainwater is more than just free water – it is ideal for watering outdoor lawns and ornamental gardens, since it does not contain the minerals and salts found in groundwater. In addition to their use as an alternative source of water for outdoor needs, rain barrels reduce stormwater runoff which can carry debris into local waterways. Don’t forget – using rainwater for your outdoor needs will also lower your monthly water bill.

County Climate Action Plan measure and rain barrel rebate

The County of San Diego is working to increase rain barrel installations as part of its Climate Action Plan, measure W-2.1. The goal of measure W-2.1 is to have 1,200 rain barrel installations by 2020 and an additional 2,000 rain barrel installations by 2050. Since 2014, the County has distributed a total of 7,318 rain barrels, exceeding the 2020 goal by 600%. To track rain barrel installation progress, visit the San Diego County data website.

The measure incentivizes rainwater barrel installations by providing rebates to residents of unincorporated areas for purchasing one. Residents can receive a $30 discount when they purchase an Ivy rain barrel through Rain Water Solutions (limited to the first 200 barrels sold during each event). The site also provides details on upcoming event locations and times for their rain barrel pick up. San Diego Metropolitan Water District is also offering a $35 rebate for each (up to two) rain barrels purchased after submitting an application through SoCal WaterSmart. Don’t forget to keep the purchase receipt of the rain barrel(s). The final cost of an Ivy rain barrel with up-front unincorporated County discount and rebate can be $25.

Rain barrel events are typically held in February and October every year. Visit the County of San Diego Rain Barrel Information website to find out how you can pre-order and pick up a rain barrel at either the Spring Valley or Ramona distribution events on February 22nd and February 29th, respectively.

SoCal WaterSmart also provides rebates for cisterns, and the rebate amount goes up as the cistern capacity goes up. Cistern rebates range from $250 to $350 and are limited to one rebate per household.

Tips for installing and maintaining your rain barrel

  • Rain Barrels are mostly gravity fed, so if you are not going to be purchasing a pump, the barrel should be placed below the roofline but above areas which are going to be watered with the rain barrel.
  • Rain Barrels should be placed on a flat, even surface – Cinder blocks, or compacted gravel and sand work well.
  • Overflow drainage should be constructed and move water away from the barrel and home in case the rain barrel overflows.
  • There should be a filter or diversion spout in place to prevent debris from entering the rain barrel.
  • Keep the rain barrel tightly sealed or have mosquito netting to prevent mosquitos.
  • The rain barrel should be placed in a shaded area or colored black to prevent algae growth.
  • Be mindful of using rain barrels on edible plants – the water collected in untreated.
  • Clean the rain barrel once per year.

Keep that backyard retreat and garden thriving while reducing overall water use (and saving money) by installing a rain barrel and help San Diego County become one of the most water-wise counties in the state.