An Interview with Rainwater Harvester Christopher McKinnon

Rain barrels are pretty neat. They connect to downspouts and capture water so that it doesn’t run into the storm drains after a heavy rain, ultimately reducing the pollution that makes it into our waterways. The collected water can then be used for various purposes like watering a garden or plants. The LA Stormwater Program recently spoke with Christopher McKinnon, a participant of our LA Rainwater Harvesting Pilot Program, who installed several rain barrels at his own home to see what he thinks about them.

LA Stormwater: What do you think is the most beneficial aspect of harvesting rain?

Christopher McKinnon: Despite us seemingly having an unlimited supply of water in Los Angeles, we know we don’t. Most of our water comes from distant, unsecured, unsustainable sources, so anything we can do to capture and conserve water we do. We removed our lawns in our front and back yards a few years ago and now use the rainwater harvested water to supplement our modified drip irrigation for the drought tolerant California native plants. We also have a vegetable garden in our front yard along a side fence where we also use the rainwater we collect in our rain barrel.

LA Stormwater: Since joining the rainwater harvesting program, do people ask you questions about harvesting rain, or have they installed their own rain barrels after seeing yours?

Christopher McKinnon: Not too many questions except during the annual Mar Vista Community Council Green Committee Green Garden Showcase in April when we had lots of visitors from around the LA area. Most locals in Mar Vista heard about the pilot project and there was large participation throughout the community. Three of our barrels are hand painted with flowers by my wife Patricia, so we have got a few inquiries on that aspect!

LA Stormwater: How much water do you collect in your rain barrel throughout the year?

Christopher McKinnon: We have four barrels, one at each corner of the house. Two of these I made from recycled plastic food drums, where I added the hose bib on the side near the bottom, a decorative one from Home Depot and one from the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation Watershed Protection Division’s LA Rainwater Harvesting Pilot Program. So that is approximately 200 gallons per rainstorm. If we were to have 10 storms, that would be 2,000 gallons per year! If I were going to renovate an old house, or build a new residence or commercial building, I would investigate larger tanks that are on the market and disguise them around or under the property, because we do get more rain per year than I can collect even with four barrels.

LA Stormwater: Has your rain barrel made you think differently about urban runoff?

Christopher McKinnon: Yes, because I know everyone can and should collect runoff. It is relatively inexpensive and at least it is a start in keeping runoff localized so that it does not get contaminated on its way to the storm drains and eventually to Ballona Creek or Los Angeles River and the Pacific Ocean. Now is the time to start leaving our desert-natural environment better then when we found it. I currently serve as the Mar Vista Community Council liaison to the Recycled Water Advisory Group, a joint venture of the LADWP and the Bureau of Sanitation, so you could say I am deeply immersed in stormwater runoff and other recycled water initiatives.

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Comments (6)

  1. Avatar for LA Stormwater
    Natalie Stone
    March 8th, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Can I buy a rainbarrel from the City?

  2. Avatar for LA Stormwater
    Art Leyva
    March 20th, 2012 at 7:47 am

    We don’t have a ‘rain barrel’, but we place the blue recycling can under our spout and collect 55 gallons of rain water every time it rains (as we did last Saturday). Then we use it to water our fruit trees and potted plants.

    • Avatar for LA Stormwater
      LA Stormwater
      March 21st, 2012 at 7:41 am

      Hi Art! Thanks for sharing your own rainwater harvesting story with us! Collecting 55 gallons last Saturday is exciting! Thanks again for sharing your rainwater harvesting experience with us and for preventing stormwater pollution to protect our river and ocean! Do any of your neighbors use rain barrels or other methods of rainwater harvesting?

  3. Avatar for LA Stormwater
    Melissa Tran
    December 2nd, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Hi when will you be starting this rainwater harvest program? I would like to get a barrel. thx

    • Avatar for LA Stormwater
      LA Stormwater
      December 3rd, 2012 at 2:24 pm

      Thanks for your interest in harvesting rain. The rainwater harvesting program referenced in this article was a pilot program that was implemented a few years back. Unfortunately, the City doesn’t have the funding to expand this program. However, if that ever changes, we’ll be sure to let interested folks like you know so that you can participate. In the meantime, if you’re interested in rainwater harvesting, a home improvement store in your area can probably assist you in purchasing a rain barrel.

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