Back in 2009, I was excited to work with officials from the City of San Diego to build a strong rainwater rebate program. From these discussions The Water Conservation Department created a rebate program for $1/gallon up to $400 for any size container. The idea was to encourage larger storage by offering more money. City residents used to be able to collect up to $750 in rebates for cisterns between both the city and county rebate program. At the time, after rebates were collected, homeowners were able to get a 1000 gallon tank for practically free.
In 2019 we were made aware that the City of San Diego had made changes to the program. While they kept the amount at “up to $400”, they now will not rebate barrels over 200 gallons. What this means is you can get 8 x 55 gallon barrels and collect $400, but if you get a 400 gallon “cistern” you cannot collect any City rebate. Though we, and many of our clients have requested an answer to why this happened, and requested that they reinstate the original program, we have not received any good answers or reasoning. We have contacts in the Public Utilities Department that have also run into road blocks when trying to get answers.
We need your help getting our City of San Diego Rainwater Rebate Program to meet the needs of our community. The program goals are designed to align with helping the City comply with stormwater regulations by keeping runoff minimized during rain events. Over the years, we have written many times about the benefits of larger rainwater capture vs smaller barrels, both for really keeping water out of the storm drains, and for helping to offset water demand. Small barrels just don’t cut it. We need to developing long lasting solutions for our region. A small barrel will only ever be a short term solution. Here are reasons why it makes sense to get large storage containers instead of small ones.
Cost Per Gallon – Consider this: 55 gallon drums, untapped for rainwater run between $30-$75 (used- new). Add the cost of cheap materials to tap the drums and time (either yours or someone else’s: $25-$75. So 8 x 55 gallon drums crafted for rainwater catchment = $440 – $1200. Whereas 1 x 420 gallon tank is $595 and ready to go. The chart here demonstrates that the bigger you can go, the better investment it will be, especially if your goal is to cut back on your water needs for your garden, since the water that you are sold is cheap compared to the above numbers.
Maintenance Cost – The prices above do not reflect the long term maintenance of the project. A well installed system, with prefiltration, ease of use, and well developed to be sealed against mosquitos, will have longer term benefits. We have seen so many “free” barrels, or barrels that people got through city programs sitting around unused, defunct, collecting algae, sitting full of water that never gets used, growing mosquitos. None of the modified barrels, and none of the 55-100 gallon off the shelf rain barrels resist these pitfalls in our experience, without significant regular maintenance.
Environmental Cost – After seeing the number ofdefunct barrels lying around San Diego, we know that this is a “temporary” fix at great environmental cost. More petroleum based products breaking down in the sun, destined for the the landfill…
Space and Efficiency – This picture of 8 x 55 gallon barrels vs 1 x 420 gallon cistern illustrates the point elegantly: smaller barrels take up more space in your yard. The 420 gallon cistern takes up half the area that the 8x 55 gallon barrels do. So you are less likely to reach your potential. Knowing that 1000 square feet of roof will yield 600 gallons of water in a single inch, why bother trying to stuff enough 55 gallon barrels into your yard to manage a rain event of any magnitude.
Please support our campaign to hold our City Public Utilities Department accountable to their policies. They are paid through our tax money to work for us. Please remind them to focus on what is best for our region, rather than what is best for governmental agencies checking boxes to meet minimal compliance metrics. Write to your local City Council Member, write to the Mayor. Here is an example letter. Feel free to share your own experience if you have upgraded from smaller storage, were the recipient of a rebate for a larger cistern before the program changed, or have seen the benefits of your own large storage:
Dear <City Council Member> or <Mayor Todd Gloria>,
I am writing today to ask for the Public Utilities Department to be held accountable to why they changed the Rain Barrel Rebate Program recently. The program used to rebate $1 per gallon up to $400, with no restrictions. Now they will only rebate barrels less than 200 gallon. This means we can get a rebate for $400 for 2 x 200 gallon barrels, but not a single 400 gallon barrel.
The purpose of the program is to encourage people to disconnect from the storm drains to keep our Storm Drains clean. I know that a 1000 square foot roof yields 600 gallons per inch of rain. It makes more sense to encourage larger storage. Especially since we know the landfill has limited space, and smaller barrels (like recycled 55 gallon drums, which qualify for the rebate), have a limited life span and will likely be destined for the landfill in the coming years.
I would like to see a more comprehensive rebate program that not only allows people the flexibility to design a system that will work for them, but encourages solutions that solve the problems we face with more development (more hardscaping), population increase, and more water demand.
If you do not live in the City of San Diego, please encourage your municipality to provide more comprehensive incentive programs to encourage all of San Diego to protect our waters!