The Art of Stormwater Management

The Art of Stormwater Management

By / Photography By Brienne Cosman | May 06, 2016
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Rainwater Harvesting in Painted Barrels


A sunset wraps itself around the barrel at the corner of your neighbor’s house. As you appreciate the warm colors painted on the curving canvas, you wonder, why don't I have a gorgeous rain barrel glowing at the corner of my house? Good question. They’re useful, folks love them, and did I mention — they’re painted!


“The rain barrel has become the poster child for water conservation and stormwater management on a small scale,” says Jillian McCarthy, Stormwater Coordinator for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. According to NHDES, runoff from paved surfaces and homes constitutes 90 percent of New Hampshire’s water pollution. One strategically placed rain barrel can catch 55-60 gallons of this runoff through a single section of gutter entering its lid. The removable lid offers instant access to free water for plants, and the spigot at the barrel’s bottom can connect to a hose or feed an irrigation system while directing runoff away from building foundations. For greater catch and storage, multiple barrels can be connected together, increasing runoff that will be cleaned through the ground before it reaches our aquifers.


A growing membership of resource optimizers and water stewards is energizing “an organic spread of rain barrels through the system,” says Carl McMorran, Operations Manager of Aquarion Water Company of New Hampshire. One of these barrel adopters is Amy Antonucci, co-leader of Seacoast New Hampshire Permaculture. Amy employs several barrels on her Barrington homestead where, as Jillian explains, they “tie in so nicely to the permaculture principles of using local resources, catching and storing energy, and using slow and small solutions.” But for those not knee-deep in dirt, Jillian reminds us that using barrels to fill bird baths and to water yards is just as worthwhile, especially because of the collective effect: “If everyone in a neighborhood — or better yet, everyone in a watershed — had a rain barrel, imagine the reduced burden on municipal water supplies or private wells during short periods of drought. Imagine the reduction to localized flooding during rain storms.”

Sharon England has imagined all this. Growing up on a Colorado farm where “water was a premium,” she felt called to simplify water preservation for the public. In 2003, she and UNH student Jamie Houle prototyped their first Skyjuice rain barrel. Since then, Jamie earned his Natural Resources & Environmental Science Ph.D. and became Program Director of UNH’s Stormwater Center. Together, he and Sharon have grown Skyjuice beyond its Durham base to offer recycled food-grade plastic barrels through collective buying programs across New England.

One fan of Sharon and Jamie’s is Mary Gilbertson of South Berwick’s Oldfields CSA Farm. At last count, Mary had eleven barrels in her personal garden, ranking Skyjuice the best of the lot. As a permaculture designer and teacher, Mary likes to educate people on all the reasons to love barrels beyond catching run-off and watering plants — like flushing toilets when the power is out. Sharon once used her summer barrel water to help neighbors do just this!



In 2009, Aquarion began offering Skyjuice rain barrels at 50 percent cost to the public, or 75 dollars each. The program has run each February through mid-May since, promoted in part by Hampton’s Conservation Commission, which falls within Aquarion’s service area. In 2012, Conservation Coordinator Rayann Dionne made a proposal to Dona Boardman, Hampton Academy’s sixth through eighth grade Art Specialist — could her students paint donated rain barrels for auction? Dona immediately loved the idea that student art could benefit the public and the environment, a sentiment echoed by Jillian: “We often put art and science on opposite ends of the spectrum, but I find that when we combine the two, we make complex messages more meaningful and accessible.”

That first year, all eight Aquarion-donated barrels successfully auctioned to support Hampton’s Conservation Commission. In the five years since, the barrels have become senior privilege for Dona’s eighth graders, who “love to take art off the table.” The students work in teams to design their original barrel paintings, balancing creativity and competition. Whether stippling life-size flowers or blending a fiery sunset, each group hopes its environmental installation will draw the highest bid. And according to Dona, “The bidders are thrilled with all the energy of these kids in such beautiful pieces.” 2016’s Painted Rain Barrel Silent Auction is May 21st, 9AM-1PM, at Hampton Town Hall, in conjunction with the Hampton Garden Club’s annual plant sale. Contact for more information.


If you DIY, the internet abounds with directions for fabricating and installing rain barrels as a home project. But sometimes a project takes a team. SOAK Up the Rain New Hampshire is a wholly volunteer program through NHDES that provides workshops, training and hands-on assistance for New Hampshire residents who request help installing rain barrels and other green infrastructure, like rain gardens. After last year’s auction, Hampton’s Conservation Commission partnered with SOAK to create Soak Up the Rain Hampton, which provides library workshops and hands-on guidance for residents newly working with rain barrels and rain gardens. But you don’t need an auction to get started on rain barrels or any green infrastructure, for that matter. Visit to learn more about local SOAK partners, or to find information on grant funding to begin your own community’s SOAK partnership. With support like this, the barrel looks as beautiful on the inside as it does on the outside.

Article from Edible New Hampshire at
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