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The Utah rain barrel program is back for the 10th year

A rain barrel sits under a gutter to capture the runoff. The repurposed rain is primarily used for landscaping purposes, like watering a lawn or garden, rather than using municipal water
Riley Cutter
A rain barrel sits under a gutter to capture the runoff. The repurposed rain is primarily used for landscaping purposes, like watering a lawn or garden, rather than using municipal water

As state leaders continue to encourage water conservation, more than a dozen cities in four Utah counties are looking to rainwater harvesting as a small step residents can take to save the resource.

Katie Jensen of Millcreek bought a rain barrel about seven years ago. The inspiration came when she and her husband purchased their house.

“We … realized how expensive it was to use water. We bought one because we wanted to conserve water,” she said. “I mean, it’s coming down from the sky anyway so we thought we could just save it in the barrel.”

Jensen uses the water instead for her garden. If the 50-gallon barrel is filled to the brim, she said she’s used it for ice baths and her kids can use it in the backyard sandbox. While she hasn’t noticed a difference in her water bill, Jensen said she just “feels better” – and like they’re “coming full circle” using recycled water rather than the hose.

“We gather this water from the sky, we're going to use it to water plants [and] we're going to eat these plants,” Jensen said. “I love the planet and I love the Earth. And I want to do what I can to use the resources we have.”

The Utah Rivers Council’s RainHarvest Utah program has been partnering with participating municipalities for the last decade. In that time, the environmental advocacy organization has purchased and distributed almost 11,000 rain barrels. While the group doesn't track the amount of water salvaged, Director Zach Frankel said every time those barrels are filled “over 550,000 gallons of water can be saved” if everyone utilizes it properly.

Research from Utah State University and the University of Arizona shows rain barrels can help reduce stormwater runoff, which can improve water quality since it prevents pollutants from entering the water system. It can also minimally decrease municipal water usage.

Since 2020, when Utah was in the midst of an extreme drought and strongly encouraging residents to conserve water, Frankel said the program has gained traction among residents and municipalities. Some cities, like Murray, have been in the program since its inception. Others, like Taylorsville and Sandy, joined later.

Cities chip in about $30 of the $83 cost of the barrel. Only residents who live in areas involved in the program can buy a barrel at the reduced rate. Those areas include Millcreek, Salt Lake County, Cottonwood Heights, Murray, Sandy, Taylorsville, Herriman, Lehi, Orem, Park City, Mountain Regional Water, Summit County, North Ogden, Ogden and Weber County.

Nikki Wyman, water education and public outreach coordinator for Sandy, said it’s the city’s second year in the program and there are “a lot of enthusiastic participants.” It’s a “pretty easy entry for people to start learning behaviors of conservation and sustainability.”

“I hear from a lot of people wondering if it's going to happen again. And can we please get more barrels?”

In Herriman, William Szwarc, the city’s water quality & conservation coordinator, said more residents have taken advantage of the discount since 2020, or they’re coming back for a second one.

And while Jensen didn’t buy her first rain barrel through the program, she plans to this year.

“The rain barrels are an effective way to capture water that can be used in many ways. And they also serve as a visual reminder of the importance of water conservation,” Szwarc said. “Our residents definitely take full advantage of it.”

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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