Four rain barrels decorated by Butler County residents are among those displayed at the Cincinnati Zoo that will be auctioned off as part of Earth Week. CONTRIBUTED

4 Butler County artists created works available for auction at the Cincinnati Zoo

John Nelson, program director of the Hamilton County Soil & Water Conservation District, said one disadvantage some people see with rain barrels is they can be plain, or industrial-looking. But Maddie Maurer of the Butler Soil & Water Conservation District says those produced by her agency are attractive.

Seven years ago, “we started partnering with local artists on painting these barrels,” Nelson said.

“We put out a request for artists to submit designs every year in November,” he said. And the top 40 are chosen by an independent panel.

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The decorated 55-gallon barrels are displayed at the zoo, which will have its annual Party for the Planet on Thursday at 8 p.m. As part of that event, admission to the zoo will be free after 5 p.m., and people will be putting in final bids for their favorite barrels, for which the bids are already being accepted at www.savelocalwaters.org/auction.

Four Butler County artists have designs being auctioned: Stacy Dickman of Fairfield Township, Lori Kay Farr of Hamilton, Amy Ehlers of Liberty Twp. and and Abby Wilson of Lakota Ridge Junior School.

Many stores sell rain barrels, but in Butler County, people can buy them from Butler County’s soil and water district, which sells unpainted barrels at cost, including the fixtures that connect them to hoses. They are available at www.butlerswcd.org.

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“It’s a quick first step for a homeowner to start contributing towards helping water quality in the region,” Nelson said.

Several Butler County agencies and local governments belong to the regional stormwater collaborative, including the Butler County Stormwater District, the conservation district and the cities of Hamilton, Oxford, Middletown and Monroe.

Rain barrels can save homeowners money, because they can “harvest” their own rainwater from their roofs. Rather than going down a drain, it goes into the barrel. The owners can use it to water gardens, trees or lawns, rather than paying for tap water.

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Also, the water that goes into barrels does not flood other areas downstream or overwhelm sewage treatment plants.

Maurer said the plain brown or beige barrels the Butler County agency sells for $65 have attachments that divert water from gutter pipes to the rain barrels, with nozzles in the barrel to water plants.

“They’re really nice-looking,” she said.

People can order barrels online or can go to the agency’s office at 1802 Princeton Road, Suite 300. It’s best to call in advance to make sure barrels are available, Maurer said.

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