The Art and Science of Rain Barrels

Conference attendee Alison sits beside her hand-painted rain barrel. (Photo courtesy ECA)

Here's another update from the Energy Coordinating Agency, this time bringing you more information than you thought you needed about rain barrels, courtesy of ECA's Matthew Wilk.

I had been working with Liz Robinson, Executive Director of the Energy Coordinating Agency (ECA)  and a few other ECA staff members  to coordinate displays for “The Art and Science of Rain Barrels”; an exhibit at the Environmental Protection Agency to raise awareness on the importance of managing storm water in Philadelphia.

 I was expecting a small, intimate gathering with just a handful of people, so when I walked into a room filled with teachers, children, artists, community members and executives of non-profits, all mingling and reading information on rain barrels, I was quite surprised! It was really incredible seeing people from all different walks of life all gathered together for a single cause.

Photo: A handful of speakers from different non-profits and schools gave talks about their relationship with rain barrels and the benefits of owning one.

The entire room was filled with color – it was really remarkable seeing how fluidly everything had come together (no pun intended).  There were hand painted rain barrels, informational videos, and large dioramas depicting the benefits of having a rain barrel in your home.

I was shocked to learn about the monumental impact owning a rain barrel can make on our city. Philadelphia has a very small drainage system, and as little as a half inch of rain can fill the underground pipes to capacity. When this happens, the rainwater mixes with our sewage water and overflows directly into the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers as well as Frankford and Cobbs creek.  Rain Barrels allow us to control the amount of water in our pipe system by storing it, and then redirecting it toward more fruitful applications.

Photo: ECA’s Jerry Bennett speaks on the importance of owning a rain barrel. He has 3 at home.

Liz Robinson said she uses the water she collects in her rain barrel to wash her car and to water plants. Rain Barrels repurpose water that would otherwise have a very destructive effect toward more positive and sustainable endeavors.

Alison was a young artist who spoke at the opening event. She painted a sun poking out from behind some storm clouds on one of the rain barrels. “I wanted to depict the brighter future these rain barrels will bring” she remarked.  The rain barrels serve a practical purpose and additionally have the ability to inspire and create lasting change in the community.

Photo: Alison and her hand-painted rain barrel

A rain barrel is a small investment that holds major environmental and economic savings. “We recycle these barrels that would only have one life otherwise, and wind up creating jobs while lessening our environmental impact in the process.” said Executive Director Liz Robinson at the exhibitions grand opening last Tuesday. ECA installs more than 3,000 free rain barrels a year for anyone who lives in the city of Philadelphia.

In order to attend a rain barrel workshop or get your own rain barrel, call Aaron Slater 215-609-1083 or email at

See the exhibit for yourself! The Art and Science of Rain Barrels exhibit can be viewed at the EPA’s public information center (found at 1650 Arch St in Center City).

Matthew Wilk is an Americorps Energy Corps member working with the Energy Coordinating Agency.

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