A typical year brings about 30 inches of rain lands on rooftops, sidewalks, streets and clay-based yards in Superior.

The impermeable surfaces ultimately direct the rain to storm drains that flow directly to Lake Superior, untreated. In a heavy rain event, storm drains can’t handle the flow and water could end up in basements.

Harnessing the benefit of the rain and slowing the flow of water to the city’s storm drain system was the goal behind a workshop on how to make a rain barrel held Wednesday, July 29, on Barker’s Island in Superior.

Rain barrels collect rainwater for later use such as watering gardens, trees or lawns or for other outdoor uses.

Linda Hollinday examines pieces included in a kit to make a rain barrel during a workshop at Lake Superior Estuarium Wednesday. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Linda Hollinday examines pieces included in a kit to make a rain barrel during a workshop at Lake Superior Estuarium Wednesday. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

It also reduces the strain on clean drinking water because rainwater collected can be used instead, said Andrea Crouse, Superior’s water resources program coordinator.

Superior’s Environmental Services Division and Douglas County’s Land Conservation Office joined forces to give 15 people the supplies and instruction to make their own rain barrel.

Supplies included a 55-gallon barrel; spigot; rubber washer and nut; a sump pump drain kit; silicone caulk; Teflon tape; screen; and a bungee cord to secure the screen over the top of the barrel to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in the water.

Douglas County applied for a grant that kept the cost of the workshop at $10 per Douglas County resident.

Crouse said the workshop was capped at 15 and held on Barker’s Island because of the pandemic.

Superior's water resource program coordinator Andrea B. Crouse holds up a spigot before explaining how to attach it Wednesday during a workshop on making rain barrels at Lake Superior Estuarium. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Superior's water resource program coordinator Andrea B. Crouse holds up a spigot before explaining how to attach it Wednesday during a workshop on making rain barrels at Lake Superior Estuarium. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

“My husband mentioned it, and I said let’s go,” said Nerissa Steiger, who attended the event with her husband, Matt, 2-year-old daughter, Gloria, and the family dog, Hogan.

Matt and Nerissa Steiger each started assembling their barrels during the workshop to add to the one they already have at home.

“Our garden has been really good this year because of the rain barrel,” Steiger said.

Crouse led the assembly of the barrels, from installing the spigot near the bottom of the barrels to provide access to the collected water, installing the fittings for the overflow to carry excess rainwater away from a building using the sump pump drain and installing the screen over the top of the barrel and securing it with a bungee cord.

Donna Stubbe attaches a spigot to her rain barrel Wednesday evening during a workshop at Lake Superior Estuarium. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Donna Stubbe attaches a spigot to her rain barrel Wednesday evening during a workshop at Lake Superior Estuarium. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Barrels were already prepared with a 15/16th-inch hole for the spigot about 2 inches from the bottom of the barrel and a 1¾-inch hole about 2 inches from the top of the barrel and 90 degrees from the spigot hole for the overflow.

Depending on the size of the roof, she said a 55-gallon rain barrel can be filled from a single, half-inch rain event.

“One square foot of roof collects 0.6 gallons of water from a 1-inch rain event,” Crouse said. “This means that a 1,000-square-foot roof would collect about 600 gallons of water from a single 1-inch rain event.”

“Where you place the rain barrel is really important,” Crouse said. She said a sturdy base, such as cinder blocks is necessary because a full 55-gallon barrel weighs 400-450 pounds.

She said the best places are at a downspout or under a place on the roof where water tends to channel off. However, she said her friend has a 250-gallon rain barrel and collects water from the sump pump, which provides filtered water and tends to fill the barrel faster.

Becky Sturtevant said she had the opportunity to attend because her fiance’s brother signed up and couldn’t come.

New to gardening, Sturtevant said there’s been a lot of rain this summer out in rural Douglas County and she saw the workshop as an opportunity to use the rain as she plans to expand the number of gardens she has.

“We have these other barrels … and I now can make rain barrels out of them as well,” Sturtevant said.

Superior's water resource program coordinator Andrea B. Crouse shares information about the benefits of having a rain barrel during a workshop on making them at Lake Superior Estuarium Wednesday evening. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Superior's water resource program coordinator Andrea B. Crouse shares information about the benefits of having a rain barrel during a workshop on making them at Lake Superior Estuarium Wednesday evening. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)