Copyright: Nuttapon Pundech

By Shereen Siewert

Wausau will firm up plans next week for a subsidized rain barrel program, an effort to spur water conservation in the city.

Lawn and garden watering can make up nearly 40% of total household water use during the summer, potentially doubling water bills during summer months. A single rain barrel could save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months.

The plan is a partnership with the Public Service Commission and proposes a $35 subsidy for each $75 rain barrel purchased. That means residents would pay $40 for a rain barrel, with a limit of two per household. The program would be managed by Rain Barrel Solutions, a third-party vendor that would accept orders and deliver barrels to a central location in Wausau for pickup.

Conservation advocates say diverting water from downspouts helps the environment by keeping water from becoming runoff that carries pollutants to rivers and streams. Rain barrels reduce runoff by storing water for future use, such as watering the grass or washing windows.

City officials initially proposed limiting the number of subsidized barrels to 200, but are reconsidering that decision after staff conferred with the PSC. Based on data from other municipalities with such programs in place, about 1 percent of the population is expected to purchase a barrel. In Wausau, that would be about 400 rain barrels. But based on public feedback and early enthusiasm for the program, city officials estimate they could sell as many as 600 barrels if they choose not to limit the subsidy program.

Wausau’s Waterworks Commission on Tuesday will review the proposed rules before the barrels are sold. Residents would order barrels online and pick up orders in mid-June.

The capital outlay for subsidizing the rain barrel program is estimated at $21,000.