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Whitehall residents use barrels to save for rainy days

| Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Stephanie Hacke | South Hills Record
Whitehall Public Library circulation clerk Staci Zemaitis shows off a rain barrel at a Whitehall home. The library is hosting a program that will help residents put together their own rain barrels.
Stephanie Hacke | South Hills Record
Whitehall Public Library circulation clerk Staci Zemaitis shows off a rain barrel at a Whitehall home. The library is hosting a program that will help residents put together their own rain barrels.
Stephanie Hacke | South Hills Record
A decorated rain barrel sits in the yard of a Whitehall home.

Four large rain barrels help Russ Walker keep his vegetable and flower gardens hydrated during the blistering summer heat.

“It does take a little work … but it's worth it,” said Walker, who grows collard greens, kale, Brussels sprouts and cucumbers in multiple backyard gardens that take up nearly all of the open earth at his Whitehall home.

“It's amazing the amount of water that comes out of the downspout,” said Walker, adding he's noticed a drop in his water bills in the four years since he began using rain barrels as a water source. This, in turn, means he doesn't have to turn on his garden hose as often to water the plants.

Members of the Streets Run Watershed Association, in coordination with the Whitehall Public Library, will host a rain barrel workshop at 7 p.m. July 24 in the Whitehall community room, 100 Borough Park Drive. Nancy Martin-Silber of the Pennsylvania Resources Council will share information about the water cycle and show how to install a rain barrel.

The watershed association, a nonprofit grassroots organization, formed in 2001 to promote restoration and enhancement of natural resources through flood protection and prevention along Streets Run Road, leaders said. The Streets Run Watershed includes 6,200 acres in Baldwin Borough, Whitehall, Brentwood, West Mifflin and Pittsburgh.

In recent years, the group has focused on educating the public about improving water quality, said association President and Whitehall Councilman Harold Berkoben.

An initiative to introduce residents to rain barrels, which help keep water out of aging stormwater infrastructure, began several years ago, said Coreen Casadei, engineer for the Streets Run Watershed Association and principal engineer for West View-based Collective Efforts LLC.

Many municipalities in the watershed are under state or federal consent decrees to improve their sewage systems and reduce stormwater infiltration in their systems.

“This is one little step that people can do,” Casadei said. “It takes water out of the hard structure.”

The idea of connecting a food-grade barrel to a downspout, adding a filter, attaching a spigot to the bottom and recycling the rain water is nothing new, Casadei said.

“It used to be very popular when I was a kid,” Berkoben said. “Every farmer had one.”

“Rain barrels are old school,” Casadei added. “It's relearning some things that were used 100 years ago.”

The watershed association has held programs to promote rain barrel use, including “Make Your Own Rain Barrel,” and art and science collaborations at Baldwin and Brentwood high schools, leaders said. Whitehall Councilman Phil Lahr also painted rain barrels that were auctioned off and are on display in the borough.

A similar program also was held last year at the Whitehall Public Library. “We had a wonderful response,” said adult service coordinator Debby Rampolla.

“It really is a good thing that they are doing for themselves. It saves them money in the long run.”

Advance registration is required for the July 24 program. The first 30 residents to sign up will receive vouchers for free rain barrels, donated by Whitehall-based Schneider's Dairy.

Register at www.whitehallpubliclibrary.org or by calling the library at 412-882-6622. Payment of $50 per person, or $55 per couple is due at the door the night of the class.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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