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Rain Barrels Help Our Gardens and the Great Bay

By Cynthia Walter, Ph.D. and Julie Thompson M.Ed.

We all appreciate rainwater as free water for the yard. Rain barrels help us use that water between storms. Last summer, in southern New Hampshire, we saw long dry spells and occasional hard rains. The Great Bay Rain Barrel Project helps us reduce drinking water use by collecting rainwater for our gardens, protect the Great Bay Estuary by reducing harmful storm water runoff, reduce our water bills, and support plastic reduction by purchasing repurposed plastic rain barrels.

Living our Dover Democratic value to Protect the Environment, our Energy and Environment Action Group is taking advantage of The Great American Rain Barrel Company’s “community program” option to arrange for a bulk delivery of barrels at a discounted, community price, ordered by April 11. Our volunteers will be on hand to load barrels into cars on the delivery date: Friday, April 16, 4-6 pm at St. John’s United Methodist Church parking lot, 28 Cataract Ave.

The Great American Rain Barrel Company rain barrels are repurposed, food-grade, BPA-free plastic fitted with a hose spigot, an overflow pipe, and a bug-proof screened top.

The Great Bay Estuary watershed embraces 42 New Hampshire towns along the eight rivers that feed the estuary, the Winnicut, Squamscott, Lamprey, Oyster, Bellamy, Cochecho, Salmon Falls, and Piscataqua rivers. These rivers and the bay are under the stewardship of headwater towns, e.g., Farmington, midway towns, e.g., Dover, and coastal towns, e.g., Portsmouth. Ten towns in Maine, such as Eliot and Kittery, also contribute to the Great Bay Estuary.

The Great Bay Rain Barrel Project is just one of many practical solutions to complex water pollution problems that plague the health of the Great Bay Estuary. Rain barrels help us all in so many ways. Gardens need water between rains, but climate change brings long dry spells interspersed with heavy storms and flooding, a watery feast and famine for gardens. Heavy storms flush nitrogen and phosphorus into our waterways, suffocating native plants with harmful algae. Rain barrels combined with rain gardens beautify our yards and reduce storm

water pollution problems. For details on lots of ways to trap storm water see

The Great Bay is an estuary of national significance. Estuaries are critically important ecosystems where fresh water and saltwater meet, creating important habitat for fish, shellfish, birds, and marine mammals. Estuaries absorb carbon and create nurseries for North Atlantic fish populations. Unfortunately, decades of development, increased sewage discharges, and stormwater runoff from the land have combined to diminish the health of the Great Bay Estuary.

According to Melissa Paly, a scientist and Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper, there’s hope that we can improve the Great Bay. “We are making headway to turn the tide on pollution. Many communities have upgraded antiquated wastewater treatment facilities and are thinking about how to do a much better job at reducing the pollution that washes into the rivers and bays every time it rains. I applaud the Dover Dems for kicking off the Great Bay Rain Barrel Project – there’s something that every one of us can do to use water more wisely and protect our precious waterways.”

The rain barrels are a good example of repurposed plastic. In 1988, a food importing company in Massachusetts saw the value in these sturdy barrels and began The Great American Rain Barrel Co. They sell thousands of barrels each year, including to over 30% of the towns in Massachusetts. The Great Bay Rain Barrel Project will expand barrel use in New Hampshire and Maine.

Barrels in the Great Bay community program are discounted to $70-79, depending on color. In one summer one barrel can collect 2000 gallons. Here’s how: About 25 minutes of a moderate rainfall bring about one tenth of an inch of water, and a 1000-foot square roof can deliver enough to fill your 60-gallon barrel. We have about 30 such rainfalls each summer.

To participate in the Great Bay Rain Barrel Project and find out more about the barrels, visit

and select Dover NH.

Those with questions can contact volunteers on Facebook:

About the authors

Cynthia Walter, Ph.D. has been in Dover for almost two years. She serves on the Dover Dems Energy and Environment Action Group and is co-chair of Dover Dems Ward 2 Team. She comes to NH from PA after retiring from 35 years of experience in teaching and research on biology, especially water pollution.

Julie Thompson has lived in this area most of her life. She lives in Durham and, after retiring as a school counselor, has become active in the Dover Dems Energy and Environment Action Group. As a lifelong lover of the outdoors, she seeks to preserve the health of our planet for the next generations.

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