Coleman Fellows

The Rain Barrel Project


Coleman Fellows Course

ENVE 560 - WKU

In the Fall semester of 2010, Dr. Terry Wilson offered the graduate course ENVE 560- Investigating and Evaluating Environmental Issues. This particular course is based on a six-step environmental service learning program known as Earth Force. Dr. Wilson facilitated the process, but the students ultimately decided which environmental issue and, in turn, which service learning project they wanted to complete as a class. The graduate students inventoried issues on campus and after examining the resources available and the area with the most need, they decided that storm water management is a major issue that needs attention. They discovered the intense relationship between conservation of water and conservation of energy, so that rain water than can be recovered and used appropriately does not have to go through the energy consumptive process of treatment for drinking water.

Christian Ryan-Downing, Sustainability Coordinator for Western Kentucky University, visited the one of the class meetings to share her expertise on the subject. She mentioned the fact that the Pepsi company uses 55 gallon white plastic barrels for transporting the “syrups” they used to produce Pepsi Cola, Mountain D, etc. She suggested that these barrels could easily be reused as rain barrels for buildings on campus. After hearing this information, the graduate students decided to tackle this project. They decided to design and produce two rain barrels for their project. One of these barrels would be delivered to WKU President Gary Ransdell for use at his home. Dr. Ransdell often hosts events at his home and thought that a rain barrel would be a good too to educate guests visiting he and his wife about the use of these barrels to capture rain water and use it to irrigate some of the plants in his yard. The other barrel was to be keep as a demonstration barrel for workshops in the future where students, faculty and community members could learn about rain barrels.

At the next class meeting, the students showed up in their old clothes and got to work drilling holes for the water spigots, cutting mesh for the tops of the barrels, and painting the actual barrels. After the barrels dried, they set up a meeting with Dr. Ransdell at his home one evening to present his new rain barrel. The university gardener, Josh Twardowski, accompanied the students to inform Dr. Ransdell of his plans to use the rain barrel to water various plants outside the Ransdells’ home. This photo was taken the evening of the presentation. Both Dr. Ransdell and his wife Julie were delighted to have been given the barrel from this group of students.

In addition to completing this service learning project, the students did much research into rain barrels. From an economic perspective, they learned that rain barrels like the ones they had designed and built were sold by commercial vendors at prices from $100 upwards to $300 each. The students built their rain barrels for less than $5 each, considering they were reusing and recycling many of the components of the final product.

Part II

During the spring semester, ENVE 560 was again offered. The students decided to pick up on the work of the fall group who designed and built two rain barrels out of reusable materials. In this case, the class decided to offer a workshop to people in the community. During the workshop, the participants were to build their own rain barrel and take it home to install. Included was an “owners’ manual” to help participants place their barrels properly and make the most efficient use of this device for capturing rain water.

Twenty participants attended the workshop and made barrels to take home. Many request have come to the Center for Environmental Education and Sustainability (CEES) and to Dr. Wilson himself to have more workshops. Dr. Wilson and the CEES are currently considering its next moves on this initiative.

Below is a press release about the workshop:

A rain barrel project launched by WKU graduate students in an environmental education course is ready to spill over into the local community with a workshop on April 16.

The rain barrel making workshop will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at WKU’s Department of Facilities Management near Parking Structure 1. Registration fee is $40; registration is limited to 20 with a deadline of April 1.

The workshop is sponsored by WKU’s Office of Sustainability and the Center for Environmental Education and Sustainability.

“The rain barrel project is a great example of student engagement being used to help the community,” said Dr. Terry Wilson, director of the CEES.

The project began last fall in Dr. Wilson’s graduate course ENVE 560: Investigating and Evaluating Environmental Issues. The course is based on a six-step environmental service-learning program known as Earth Force.

“The graduate students inventoried issues on campus and after examining the resources available and the area with the most need, they decided that water management is a major issue that needs attention,” Dr. Wilson said. “This came after some research they did to find out that large amounts of energy is needed every day to clean our water to drinking water standards, although much of that water is used to flush toilets, wash cars and irrigate gardens.”

Working with WKU Sustainability Coordinator Christian Ryan-Downing, the students obtained 55-gallon plastic barrels from Pepsi Co. and designed the rain barrels. One of the first rain barrels built by the students was delivered and installed at President Gary Ransdell’s home.

When a new group of graduate students began the course this semester, Dr. Wilson asked them what service-learning project they’d like to complete. The students decided to continue work on the rain barrel project and expand it into the community as a way to conserve water and energy.

This semester’s students have obtained additional plastic barrels and have purchased paint and materials to build the rain barrels. At the April 16 workshop, participants will learn how to build the rain barrel and can decide how to paint it or decorate it.

The rainwater collected in the barrels can then be used to water plants or gardens. “We’re making something that conserves water and energy and promotes environmental sustainability,” Dr. Wilson said.