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Recycling Seattle’s Rain

Conserving water in rain barrels was the focus of the ASCE-SC and Renton/Skyway Boys and Girls Club Green Apple Day of Service project.

Seattle accumulates approximately 34 inches of rain per year, according to the Western Regional Climate Center, and the estimated annual demand for watering lawns is 18 inches (from the 1985 Washington State Irrigation Guide). If rain water were collected in barrels and reused for gardening, it would offset this demand significantly. This opportunity became the inspiration for a service learning project at the Boys & Girls Club in Renton, Washington, led by Seattle’s American Society of Civil Engineers Sustainability Committee (ASCE-SC) for the second annual Green Apple Day of Service on 27 September 2013.

BergerABAM staff, Miranda Hagadorn, Amanda Schweickert (ASCE-SC chair), Evan Sheesley, and Veronica Vong, volunteered to help facilitate the project. This is the second year BergerABAM has sponsored the event and provided supplies for a sustainability project at the Boys & Girls Club, Renton/Skyway branch.

This year, the committee taught 21 elementary students about water conservation. The students learned how to build a rain barrel system for gardening. Two 55-gallon rain barrels, previously used as pickle barrels, were sanded and painted prior to Green Apple Day. While some volunteers worked with the students in decorating the rain barrels and leading water activities with their groups, Evan and Veronica managed the installation of the rain barrels. They altered the downspouts at the Boys & Girls Club to allow for the water collected on the roof to flow down through the diverter into the rain barrels. The rain barrels will provide for 89 percent of the water needed for the grounds, collecting about 1,010 gallons per year.

A rain barrel system is a simple way to capture and use rain water that comes through a roof’s downspout. The system includes the roof, a downspout diverter, a large water-tight barrel modified with hose and spigot attachments, and an overflow hose. There are many ways to divert water from the downspout. For the project, a simple in-line diverter was used. For this system, once the barrel is full, excess water is returned to the lower portion of the downspout and into the storm drainage system. The lower spigot on the barrel can be used to fill a watering can or be connected to a drip line to water a garden. Evan advises that if you are using collected rain water for edible plants, it is important to know what material your roof is made from, as some roofing materials are treated with substances that are harmful if ingested.

The Green Apple Day of Service is organized by the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council. Powered by volunteers, this annual worldwide effort is aimed at creating healthy, safe, and sustainable learning environments. The Boys & Girls Club of Renton/Skyway was among more than 2,000 schools and campuses around the world that participated this year. Events took place in every U.S. state, on every continent, and in 40 countries.