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Rain Barrels

Sustain Dane no longer directly sells or installs rain barrels.

In 2005, Sustain Dane developed a downspout diverter design that was hand-assembled by volunteers. In 2007, the design was improved, and Enginuity began to manufacture the RainReserve diverter system in Missouri, all parts sourced in the USA. Enginuity still manufactures and sells the product today.

The RainReserve diverter system is a patent-applied-for system. From 2005 to 2011, Sustain Dane helped to sell thousands of barrels in Dane county and nationally. This exponentially grew awareness in Dane County about the power of individual action for the health of our lakes. In 2011, we sold the growing business. Sustain Dane no longer directly sells or installs rain barrels.

Please see the tips and resources below for information about the value of rain barrels, as well as Madison-area and nationwide distributors.

Rain Barrel Benefits

Of the Earth's surface, more than 70% is covered by water. Less than 3% of this is fresh water. Subtract the water that is frozen in glaciers and ice caps, moisture in clouds, humidity in the air and soil, and humans are limited to 3/10 or 1% found in the form of lakes, rivers, and streams. The necessity to save the water available to us now seems a little clearer.

Rain is a blessing. It clears the air and keeps our trees, lawns, and crops green and growing. But that same rain runs off impervious surfaces such as parking lots, roadways and roofs, carrying trash, fertilizers, pesticides, oil and other contaminants into our lakes and rivers. Just one quarter inch of rainfall runoff from the average roof will fill a 55-gallon barrel. Attach a hose to the spigot or put your watering can under the spigot to use the water wherever you want.

A rain barrel or cistern is collects rain from your rooftop. The rain barrel is positioned under the downspout of a building to collect the rain that falls on that building's roof to be used later for lawn and garden watering or washing cars or windows—activities that would normally use tap water. By installing one rain barrel, the typical home can save over 1,000 gallons of water each year (55 gallon barrel). That's 1,000 gallons prevented from running off into our lakes AND 1,000 gallons not taken from our aquifer. On a larger scale, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage System estimated 40,000 houses with 90 gallon rain barrels will collect 243 million gallons annually.

Rain water is good for plants! It is naturally soft and slightly acidic, and plants thrive on it. Rainwater is also free of chemicals such as chlorine, fluoride, salts, and other minerals that tap water contains. Rainwater harvesting is a time-tested practice, dating back to ancient civilizations. Its benefits were recognized and utilized long ago, and they are still applicable to our world today. Rain barrels help to save energy, chemicals, and tax money spent on wastewater purification. They may also reduce your water bill, depending on how much rainwater you collect!

Additional rain barrel benefits...

...saves water for dry spells.

...is warmer than tap water.

...reduces electricity costs of running sump pumps.

...reduces water and sewer bills.

...reduces runoff and helps prevent stormwater pollution.

...helps prevent flooding.

Helpful Tips

  • If you don’t have a model that uses a diverter, be sure to use a screen to keep mosquitoes, leaves and other debris out of the barrel and water.
  • Use an overflow hose or other device to direct excess water away from house foundation when the barrel is full. Install a rain garden and direct overflow from your rain barrel and downspout to the rain garden.
  • Monitor the barrel to ensure intakes and overflows aren’t blocked and that it is not becoming a home for mosquitoes.
  • Direct your home’s downspouts to a grassy area away from your home’s foundation if you don’t have them directed to a rain barrel, rather than allowing storm water to flow to the street gutter.
  • During the winter, make sure the rain barrel is drained and disconnected.

Water stored in a rain barrel or cistern is not potable, and should not be used as drinking water.


Rain barrels are usually about 40-60 gallons. You can purchase commercially made ones, but many local groups sell them. You can also make your own if you have a barrel. The simple parts are available at any hardware store.

> Ace Hardware: Williamson Street, Madison, sells rain barrel kits, you supply the barrel. Barrels can often be found advertised in the local newspaper, or in larger city newspapers – be sure they have been washed.

> RainReserve: This is the brand of rain barrel previously sold and installed by Sustain Dane.

> Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful: Order online at www.kgmb.org, $45 each. A few days after ordering, contact them to set up a pick-up time: (414) 272-5462, 1313 W. Mount Vernon Avenue Milwaukee, WI 53233.

> Green Planet Rain Barrels

> Gardener's Supply Company

> Gutter Flow7 LLC

> Rain Tank Depot

> Rain Barrel Source