By BECKY KISER
Ellis County remains in a Drought Warning. All of Kansas’ 105 counties are either in an Emergency, Warning or Watch status.
Water is precious in western Kansas and building rain barrels has become a big project for Stacie Minson, KSU Watershed Specialist.
A rain barrel is the simplest way to collect and store rain water runoff from a roof gutter downspout which can then be used in gardens and landscaping.
Rain barrels offer other benefits which make it preferable to tap water. Because the water is straight from nature, no chemicals or chlorination contaminate the water. Also, any pollutants in tap water — such as nitrogen, phosphorous, sediment and E.coli — will not run off into local water sources when using rain water to irrigate.
Since 2006, more than 6,500 rain barrels have been put together by Minson and dozens of local volunteers.
She was at it again Tuesday morning, this time working with city of Hays employees at the K-State Agricultural Research Center, where the rain barrels are constructed and distributed.
The first year the barrels were built inside the Hays Rec Center. It was a pilot project with now retired Fort Hays State University agricultural professor Dr. Jean Gleichsner and her landscaping students. “We quickly realized we didn’t have near enough barrels, and it’s grown ever since,” Minson laughed.
The rain barrels became a partnership project among the city of Hays, Coca-Cola Enterprise, Inc., Ellis and Ellsworth County Conservation Districts, the Smoky Hill River Kanopolis Lake Watershed, Gleichsner and the FHSU Ag Department, Ellis County K-State Research & Extension (now the Cottonwood District), KSU Ag Research Center and Ellis County Master Gardeners.
The 55-gallon plastic barrels, emptied of soda pop syrup, are donated by Lenexa Coca-Cola, brought to the Victoria Coca-Cola plant, and then stacked three high in a work shed at the research center.
Starting at 7 a.m. this morning, Eric Borger, an employee in the Hays Stormwater Division, A.J. Wickham in the Service Division, and John Braun, Project Manager, first drilled circular holes in the barrels which then advanced to Holly Dickman, Water Conservation Specialist, and Minson who fitted the hardware onto the barrels. Grant monies are used to purchase hardware to convert the large clear barrels which are sold for $26.
The project’s popularity has spread, thanks in part to a Youtube video Minson helped produce years ago for the Kansas Center for Agricultural Resources and the Environment (KCARE), part of K-State Research and Extension. The video, which demonstrates how to build your own inexpensive rain barrel, has had more than 100,000 hits, according to Minson.
Minson and representatives of the city of Hays presented the “Roll Out The Rain Barrel” project three years ago at a Kansas City regional conference of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “The Chicago region EPA then asked for a hundred of the hardware kits so we shipped them and they built rain barrels there in Chicago,” Minson said.
The latest batch of rain barrels, some of which have been pre-sold, will be housed at the Cottonwood Extension District office in Hays, 601 Main.
For information about purchasing a rain barrel, call the extension office at 785-628-9430.