Students Add Sustainable Color to Lakefront Skyline: It’s a Bird; It’s a Flower; It’s a Super Barrel!

Kids finish up paintingStudents from around Illinois helped decorate CNT’s latest contribution to sustainable water practices: painting, stamping and stomping a 330-gallon ‘Super Barrel’ rainwater harvesting cube into a collaborative work of art.

The students, teachers and their families gathered on a recent sunny Saturday at Navy Pier’s Union Park as part of Gov. Pat Quinn’s “Art on a Rain Barrel” contest to commemorate the 5th annual “It’s Our River Day.” Fifty schools were selected in a design competition to paint their rain barrels for judging the day of the contest. CNT and organizers invited all of the schools, as well as guests at the event, to paint on the Super Barrel, which will reside at CNT’s LEED Platinum headquarters on North Avenue.

”Green infrastructure – rain barrels, rain gardens, green roofs, permeable pavements – all of this is part of what will make urban environments healthier and cleaner,” said Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller. A spokesman for Gov. Quinn noted that the Governor wants Illinois to become “the rain barrel capital of the world.”

The Super Barrel, a re-purposed industrial shipping container, multiplies the capacity of a typical 55-80 gallon rain barrel, allowing collection of six times the rainwater in four times the space. Super barrels deliver a compact, affordable water harvesting solution for larger, multifamily buildings whose runoff would overwhelm a typical rain barrel. Capturing raindrops in rain barrels, super barrels and large cisterns protects clean water in rivers and lakes by intercepting the first flush of a storm before it enters the sewer system, thus reducing the potential of local basement flooding and regional combined sewer overflows.

A single super barrel can hold ½ inch of rain from 1,000 square feet of roof, cutting in half the amount of rain that would otherwise drain into sewers from about 90 percent of annual rain storms. One super barrel holds enough water to irrigate about 500 square feet of garden. Using rain water for landscape irrigation can save people money and save energy use, by conserving tap water whose delivery requires energy for withdrawal from Lake Michigan, filtration and pumping from city water plants. Over the course of a year, one super barrel will reduce runoff by about 10,000 gallons (which could fill a Super barrel about 200 times).

CNT has installed super barrels at four other locations: a multifamily apartment building in Oak Park; a youth garden in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, where the super barrel is watering a newly planted apple grove; and two additional apartment buildings in Oak Park. The unpainted barrels, and aluminum frames that allow them to stack two-high, are available from the Cary Company in Addison, IL.  Like rain barrels, installing a super barrel requires disconnecting a downspout and piping the water into the container, a nozzle for irrigation or other use, and installing an overflow in case the barrel becomes full in a large storm.

Chicago Botanical Garden organized the rain barrel contest, with barrels donated by Upcycle Products. Upcycle owner Richard Fielding said his production plant uses a series of super barrels piped together to collect rainwater from the factory roof, using the rain water to wash recycled food quality barrels on site.

Look at more photos of the Super Barrel at Navy Pier.