The rain barrel in my garden can collect 65 gallons of stormwater from the downspout in the back of my house. My neighbors next door collect 133 gallons in the barrel on our shared back roof.
We got them both from the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, a nonprofit organization that spearheaded the initiative to clean up Nine Mile Run several years ago. The association's rain barrel educators have helped install more than 1,600 rain barrels in the watershed and motivated an untold number of city residents elsewhere to install them.
They come in various shades, and they're pretty if you see the beauty in environmental solutions. But the 10 that are soon to be installed in public locations are works of art.
Chris Galiyas, 35, is one of the artists the association chose to paint rain barrels for its Rain Barrels on Parade project, "to raise awareness about individual solutions to stormwater issues," said Luke Stamper, sales manager for the association's StormWorks enterprise.
The American Eagle Outfitters Foundation granted $5,000 for Rain Barrels on Parade. The barrels will be auctioned off at the end of summer, most likely online, with proceeds going to the artists and the association's stormwater education work.
Mr. Galiyas, an art teacher at West Mifflin Area Middle School, saw the request for proposals on Craigslist.
"I was looking for art jobs," the Brentwood resident said. "It was a good fit for me because we're getting a rain barrel for our house. We're all about gardening and the environment."
Several artists working on the rain barrels focused on water topics.
"I chose a Pittsburgh theme that would be inviting to all kinds of people," Mr. Galiyas said. "I did a quick sketch of an incline, the logos of the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins and Pittsburgh sayings. It was fun to do."
Distribution of the rain barrels to 10 locations, including the Children's Museum, Schenley Plaza and the U.S. Steel Tower lobby, will coincide with the kickoff of the Clean Rivers Campaign (www.cleanriverscampaign.org) at 7 p.m. Thursday at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 95, 300 Saline St., Greenfield.
Brenda Smith, the watershed association's executive director, said the campaign's six partner organizations want some input into solutions the Environmental Protection Agency will be expecting the region to implement as part of its consent agreement with the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, or Alcosan.
Alcosan's report is expected to be issued by July 31.
"We're advocating to get green infrastructure into the plan," Ms. Smith said. That won't happen with the initial version, she said, but as the EPA digests the report and the region's ability to pay for a system of underground tanks and tunnels, the most affordable revision might include above-ground rain diversion measures.
"We know we can't solve every problem with green infrastructure," she said, "but we're saying, 'Let's do as much green as we can.' We're hoping to generate a groundswell of people asking for things to go in that direction."
Alcosan expects to spend about $1 billion upgrading its system in the next 20 years to comply with the Clean Water Act. The cost will need to be covered largely by customers in the 83 municipalities it serves.
If every roof fed stormwater into rain barrels instead of underground pipes and if every new sidewalk and street were made of permeable pavement or bricks with earth beneath them, the public savings would be consequential. Add rain gardens, bioswales, small diversion canals and public art that teases water to slow its rush to street drains, and most likely no one's car would be swept away during a heavy rain again.
When our environmental solutions are hidden, it's easier for us to forget our responsibility.
A rain barrel can be had for less than $200. I've had mine for about eight years. It reminds me every day that I am part of the solution and of how much I save on water bills -- I've figured about $100 a year.
An aggressive public policy requiring that all new projects include an effective stormwater capture component would be one way we could move forward. And if we commissioned artists to help create them, we would have uplifting, even beautiful, reminders of our responsibilities.