The Rainy Day Barrel Contest

November 4, 2010

With a few good storms already this fall, we have some reason to hope for good rains this winter. That will be good news for salmon, and good news for the young rain harvesters at work in Marin County, where the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) — in collaboration with Jane Goodall’s “Roots and Shoots” program — is putting on a “One, Two, Three, Save Some For Me” rainwater harvesting and community art contest.

“This is the first Roots and Shoots group in Marin County promoting rain water harvesting,” says SPAWN’s Catie Clune. Participating classes are raising funds for rainwater harvesting systems, then creatively decorating the rain barrels before installing them at their schools. “The contest is really about the kids educating themselves and other people in their community about rain harvesting barrels,” Clune adds.

But rainwater harvesting is more than an opportunity for artwork: Urban rainwater runoff can pick up toxins as it flows over impervious surfaces like streets and sidewalks in a watershed, ultimately harming both wildlife and human communities. “The aim is to try to capture rainwater runoff,” Clune explains, “and use it in the garden or elsewhere to ensure that the water entering our streams is clean.”

In addition to learning the benefits of rainwater harvesting, students get their hands dirty while directly benefiting local watersheds. “The kids enjoy being creative, and the hands-on part of this [contest] is great,” says Laura Honda, a third-grade teacher at Manor School in Fairfax. “It makes the issue visible and real to the kids.”

student with rain barrel
Photo by Cailtin Clune, SPAWN.

But the contest is only one part of broader watershed conservation education: Honda’s students are conducting home water surveys to see how much water their families use and how that amount can be reduced. They also hosted a guest speaker from the Marin County Water District who spoke about water conservation in Marin County.

At St. Marks School in San Rafael, Loree Donaldson’s third grade class is one of four classes participating. “It’s good at every age to make [the kids] conscious of using resources, to think about the watershed, about how we use water and where it goes afterward,” says Donaldson. “It’s better for both the kids and our world down the road.”

While Donaldson’s students have yet to decorate their barrels, she’s excited to see what they come up with and already has plans for the barrels after the contest. “We’re looking to use them in our campus garden to capture rainwater and water the garden with it.” Honda’s students have decorated their barrels with images of migratory birds, native wildflowers, and — appropriately — salmon.

Classes at nine schools throughout the Bay Area are already participating, and with the final days of judging and exhibition set to take place on November 20th at SPAWN’s Marin headquarters, there’s still time for interested classes to join in on the fun.

Teachers looking to sign up should contact Catie Clune at catie@tirn.net or (415) 663-8590 ext. 118. SPAWN will provide teachers with lesson plans and fundraising ideas. And Fairfax Lumber and Hardware will provide barrels to participating groups at a discount.

So this fall, with any luck the Bay Area will be cloaked in fog and rain, and you can skip the rainy-day blues simply by joining the contest or installing your own rainwater harvesting system. Then sit back and relax, knowing you’re doing your part to keep our watersheds safe and clean.

About the Author

R. Adam Chasey is a Bay Nature editorial intern.