Rain barrels could help communities conserve water, prevent flooding, reduce stress on sewer infrastructure

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Wingham residents part of ground-breaking pilot project to measure how much rain barrels could help communities solve water-related problems: IBC

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WINGHAM, ON, May 27, 2009 – Can 1,000 households make a difference? Residents of Wingham, Ontario believe they can. The community has rallied in support of a ground-breaking pilot project that is measuring how much the collective use of rain barrels can reduce stress on sewer systems and help keep basements dry during intense rain storms.

The pilot was developed by Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) because the industry has noticed an increase in insurance claims resulting from more severe weather patterns. Natural disaster claims today are 20 times higher than they were 30 years ago.

“The pilot project uses old technology — the rain barrel — to deal with a 21st century problem. By collecting rain water we can hopefully provide some relief to our over-burdened sewer infrastructure which is dealing with ever-increasing amounts of rain water due to changing weather patterns,” said Mary Lou O’Reilly, IBC Vice-President of Public Affairs and Marketing. “We believe this is the first time anyone has set out to measure by how much the use of rain barrels by an entire community can help to reduce sewer overflows during intense rainstorms,” she added.

Wingham met all the criteria for the pilot: a residential base of around 1,000 homes, a history of sewer backup overflows during intense rain storms and a local government committed to the project.

“This problem is not unique to Wingham,” said Ms. O’Reilly. “Municipalities across the country are dealing with this issue. By encouraging entire communities to collect rain water, we hope to reduce the number of flooded basements and the demand for treated water,” she added.

One rain barrel can collect about 45 gallons of water. A city of 55,000 households could keep 2.5 million gallons of water out of the sewer system if every home had a rain barrel. That’s the equivalent of five Olympic-size swimming pools.

Greg McClinchey, Councillor for North Huron Township, said: “What we learn here in Wingham could have a measurable impact on communities across the country. This pilot is a unique partnership between the insurance industry, the Township and the people of Wingham. It proves that good solutions can start at the grassroots level because people want to get involved and make a difference.”

IBC provided 1,000 free rain barrels so all Wingham homeowners could participate. Support was generated through a public education campaign and information sessions for community groups. The Township assisted homeowners who needed help picking up and installing their rain barrels, and installed a Davis Weather Station to track the intensity of rainfall around the clock.

The weather station will allow the Township to compare the amount of water entering the sewer system historically with the amount entering after homeowners are using rain barrels. The Wingham Water and Waste Water Facility and IBC worked with the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority and Environment Canada to establish measurement criteria for the pilot.

Don Nicholson, Chief Operator, Water and Wastewater Facilities, Township of North Huron, said: “Years ago, sewer system design was based on weather patterns that predicted intense storms would occur every five years. But these intense storms are now occurring every two years. Rain barrels will capture storm water and hold it until it can be safely processed, reducing the stress on the sewer system.

Nicholson added: “The rain barrel could be one of a number of innovative solutions that allow municipalities to use their existing infrastructure more efficiently until they can be updated.”

“We are thrilled that so many Wingham homeowners are participating in this pilot and are already using rain water instead of tap water for their gardens,” said Ms. O’Reilly, adding that IBC will host ‘1000 Burgers for 1000 Barrels BBQ’ on June 6 to thank the community.

About Insurance Bureau of Canada

Insurance Bureau of Canada is the national industry association representing Canada’s private home, car and business insurers. Its member companies represent nearly 95% of the property and casualty (P&C) insurance market in Canada. The P&C insurance industry employs over 110,000 Canadians, pays more than $6 billion in taxes to the federal, provincial and municipal governments, and has a total premium base of $38 billion.

To view news releases and information, visit the media section of IBC’s website at www.ibc.ca.