These two rain barrels are linked, giving this homeowner 110 gallons of storage capacity (Photo by



One of the outcomes of

the November 25, 2008 meeting of the four Boards with jurisdiction over the water supply

was that the Albemarle County Service Authority agreed to boost efforts to promote water conservation. One strategy was to find a way to promote the use of rain barrels to ACSA customers, either through a rebate or by selling them at a low cost. ACSA Administrative Supervisor Katrina Thraves was charged with working with the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District (TJSWCD) and the City of Charlottesville to explore how such a program might be implemented.

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Thraves reported her proposal  to the ACSA Board at their meeting on February 19, 2009. She was able to locate a source for barrels that would allow the ACSA to sell a barrel to its customers for $30 each, with non-customers being charged $60. The goal would be to reduce the amount of treated drinking water used for outdoor purposes, such as washing cars and watering gardens. One quarter inch of rain water can fill a 55-gallon barrel.

Thraves said she met with Garnet Mellen, Education and Easements Coordinator for the TJSWCD, to find out how the ACSA could get involved without duplicating other community efforts.

Mellen said rain barrels are a good first step to encourage citizens to think bigger and to consider installing underground storage tanks. She also told the ACSA Board that the TJSWCD favors barrels because they can stop some stormwater runoff from entering the watershed.

Robbi Savage of the Rivanna Conservation Society

However, the idea raised a red flag for the Rivanna Conservation Society, which relies on the sales of rain barrels as part of its fundraising strategy. The RCS sells barrels for $115 each, and the TJSWCD offers a “make-your-own” rain barrel workshop for $45. RCS Executive Director Robbi Savage said that with the economic downturn, her organization was counting on the revenue from selling the barrels.  Last year, they sold 157 barrels.

“To see something come out that would be $30 or $60 would essentially eliminate our [rain barrel] program altogether,” Savage said. She suggested that the ACSA could provide a rebate to help customers purchase barrels from the RCS. Savage said she thought the ACSA should focus on educating its customers on the benefits of larger rainwater harvesting systems.

Tatiana Patton, Vice President of the RCS’ Board of Directors, suggested that the ACSA could help RCS by securing the cheaper barrels, but said that the RCS wants to continue being the primary source for their sale. Patton suggested that the program could expand dramatically if the ACSA gets involved.

ACSA Board Member Liz Palmer (Samuel Miller) says her agency’s main interest would be to increase public awareness about the benefits of collecting rain water. As such, she said a partnership between the RCS, the TJSWCD and the City of Charlottesville would be a good idea. ACSA Board Member John Martin (White Hall) said a public-private partnership would create a demand for rainwater collection systems.

“Think about the efforts that have been made in the past with energy conservation measures for construction,” Martin said. “Now builders and developers have recognized that if they build energy-saving features into houses, it helps them sell houses.”

After some discussion, Thraves’ original proposal was tabled in favor of negotiations between the various parties to discuss how the rain barrel program can be expanded. A new proposal will come before the ACSA Board at a later date. Martin urged the negotiations to proceed as fast as possible so that additional barrels can be made available this year in case of drought.

Sean Tubbs



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