Topics:

  1. What’s the Problem, and Why Does It Matter?
  2. What’s the Solution?
  3. How Can You Help? Sign up for a free Rain Barrel!
  4. Frequently Asked Questions
  5. Helpful Resources for Installing Your Rain Barrel
  6. Interested in Learning More?

What’s the Problem, and Why Does It Matter?

Approximately 40% of Hartford’s land area is comprised of impervious surfaces, and much of the remaining area is covered with clay-heavy soils with low infiltration rates. Impervious surfaces prevent rain from being absorbed into the soil underneath, resulting in excess stormwater runoff and causing added burden and stress on the city’s aging infrastructure. Hartford has a 150 year-old combined sewer system, which means that rainwater combined with wastewater can exceed the system’s capacity during storm events, resulting in discharges of untreated wastewater through combined sewer overflows (CSO).

More than 1/2 billion gallons of untreated wastewater overflow to local streams and waterways annually. These discharges impact the Connecticut River’s water quality over a 30 mile distance up to 50 times per year – every time it rains more than 0.25 inches. Other areas that have impaired water quality as a result of these CSOs include: Wethersfield Cove, North Branch Park River, Trout Brook, Goff Brook, among others. In addition, local basements and streets may experience backups and flooding of raw sewage as well.


What’s the Solution?

Green infrastructure (GI) is an alternative approach to stormwater management that protects, restores, or mimics the natural water cycle, using water as a resource. Widespread adoption of GI techniques can help reduce the cost of eliminating sewer backups and localized flooding, while providing many co-benefits such as cleaner air, cooler city streets, increased public green space, and enhanced wildlife habitat, all of which improve the quality of urban life. One cost-effective approach to green infrastructure is installing a rain barrel.

Installing rain barrels located in the combined sewer areas of Hartford is a low-cost approach recommended in the EPA Next Steps Memo. Homeowners can separate their roof downspouts from the combined sewer system and redirect roof runoff into a rain barrel, which can be used to water lawns and rain gardens. This approach, which has been successfully implemented by other cities around the country, reduces inputs to the combined sewer system while also absorbing excess runoff.


How Can You Help?

NOTE: For the 2018 phase, rain barrels were distributed at pickup events in September and December 2018. For 2019 sign ups, please register using the following information.

To help encourage residents to install rain barrels, the Office of Sustainability’s Green Infrastructure Team partnered with the Metropolitan District (MDC) in 2018 to bring FREE rain barrels (a $110 value!) to Hartford residents. With the help of the Youth Services Corps (YSC) and Our Piece of the Pie (OPP), over 120 rain barrels were distributed among residents from across the city. For photos from our events, check out our twitter page @hartfordclimate. Many thanks to all of our partners at the MDC, OPP, YSC, CIRCA and the Hartford Department of Public Works that helped make this happen.

In 2019, there will be a new round of distributions later this year, and this phase will also include a limited supply of other green materials such as composters and trees. Please sign up in advance to get your name on the list for a rain barrel and potentially other green materials (as supplies last). Use the form below to sign up:

Have Questions? Send us your question using the comment card near the bottom of this page.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. How does a rain barrel save me money? Rain barrels capture rainwater, which you can use to do things like water your lawns or wash your vehicle. During peak summer months, you could save about 1,300 gallons of water, and using rainwater means that you don’t have to spend more by paying for that water. Please refer to the Seattle Rain Barrel guide for very helpful information on when and how to use your rain barrel.
  2. When will my rain barrel be ready? The rain barrels are being prepared in batches, and to get things started, we had a limited launch event on April 27th. You will be notified of your pickup date in the order that you signed up. Note that when you pick up your rain barrel, you must have some proof of Hartford residency (ID or mail with your Hartford address on it).
  3. Do you deliver? We do not offer delivery at the moment, instead the rain barrels will be available for pickup at the North End Senior Center (80 Coventry St.). Pickup details will be sent to registered participants in the order that they signed up.
  4. How do you install a rain barrel? Installing a rain barrel is a fairly easy Do-It-Yourself task. Check out the Resources section below for more information.
  5. Can you install the rain barrel for me? We do not install rain barrels, but installing a rain barrel is a fairly easy Do-It-Yourself task. Check out the Resources section below for more information.
  6. I rent my home. Can I still sign up? Yes, other than being a Hartford resident, there are no requirements to receive a rain barrel. Note that if you’d like to connect the rain barrel with your home’s roof leaders, you’ll need to receive your landlord’s permission to install the barrel.
  7. Can I have more than one rain barrel? Glad to hear that you’re interested in installing more than one barrel. For the first event we’re only providing one barrel per Hartford property, but we’ll write down your preference for another barrel. We’ll be giving out additional rain barrels to those that want them throughout the rest of the campaign.
  8. How big are the rain barrels? The barrels are 2 feet in diameter and 3.25 feet in height. They have a 60 gallon capacity. For photos, click here.
  9. I think I’ve heard of this program when it used to be “Downspout Disconnection.” How are rain barrels different? Thanks for your continued interest in our Retain the Rain program! The first phase of this program was indeed for a “downspout disconnection kit,” which involved having rainwater from your roof watering your lawn and garden. However, unlike the first phase, this second phase offers rain barrels, which is a different technique that captures and stores rainwater, allowing you to save and use the water for later. Also, Hartford residency is the only requirement for this program, unlike the previous phase, which required factors such as specific soil type and gently sloped yards.
  10. When is the last day I can sign up? A final sign up day for 2019 hasn’t been determined yet, but we strongly suggest that you sign up as soon as possible. We will purchase barrels based on demand, so it’s important that you indicate your interest in advance.
  11. My question isn’t listed here. No worries, just send your question to us using the comment card near the bottom of this page.

Helpful Resources For Installing Your Rain Barrel

  • Read the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection brochure or stormwater manual (pages 61-63) for an overview of rain barrels and their benefits.
  • For detailed installation instructions, check out Portland’s informational packet.
  • Please refer to the Seattle Rain Barrel guide for very helpful information on whether it is appropriate to use your rain barrel in certain contexts.

Interested in Learning More?

  • This pilot program is designed to address Goal 1 of the water section in the city’s Climate Action Plan, to reduce discharges into sewers and waterways. Read more about Hartford’s other sustainable action goals.
  • Want to keep up with sustainability updates and events? Sign up to receive email newsletters from us. Or check out our Bright Green Hartford page for other current events and programs.
  • We also have a fun list of facts on our blog. Check it out!
  • Have questions? Contact us at Sustainability@hartford.gov for more information.

Photo Courtesy of Keney Park Sustainability Project


The 2019 Retain the Rain program is supported by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Hartford Mayor’s Office of Sustainability is funded in part by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund. The views contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government or the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and its funding sources. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government, or the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation or its funding sources.

The 2018 program was sponsored by the Metropolitan District (MDC) and by a grant from the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA). Many thanks for their support!

About the MDC: The mission of the MDC is to provide our customers with safe, pure drinking water, environmentally protective wastewater collection and treatment and other services that benefit the member towns. More information about the MDC can be found at themdc.org.

About CIRCA: The mission of the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) is to increase the resilience and sustainability of vulnerable communities along Connecticut’s coast and inland waterways to the growing impacts of climate change on the natural, built, and human environment. More information about CIRCA can be found at circa.uconn.edu.

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