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Many look to rainwater after chemical spill

Craig Cunningham
Habitat for Humanity ReStore employees Harold Kemp and Carmen Stein look over some of the remaining pickle barrels shipped to the store last week. With many looking for ways to avoid tap water, the barrels were selling fast.
Craig Cunningham
Lori Magana uses a small battery-powered camping shower that uses rain water she collects from her roof.
Craig Cunningham
Lori Magana gets water from storage under a kitchen counter to boil on her stovetop.
Craig Cunningham
Lori Magana set up this rain water collection system after the Freedom Industries chemical leak that tainted tap water for 300,000 state residents last month.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Freedom Industries chemical leak has led many to find creative ways to avoid using tap water. Most are relying on bottled water, but a growing number of people are looking to the sky for a clean -- and free -- water source.Rainwater harvesting is the process of collecting rainwater in containers, then storing it for later use. The practice is popular among gardeners and in desert areas where water is scarce.But the recent water woes in the Kanawha Valley have led people like Lori Magana of Charleston to install rainwater harvesting systems to avoid contact with what they feel is potentially contaminated tap water."It's sort of primitive," Magana said. "The rain barrel is hooked up to my downspout and it has a faucet. After many trials, I figured out the best way to take a seven-gallon jug from Walmart and carry it inside."Magana moves rainwater from a 60-gallon barrel to five large, plastic totes in her kitchen. From there, she boils water in a pot before using it to wash in a battery-powered shower."It really gives me some peace of mind because I know I'm not inhaling any of the chemicals and I don't have to worry about if I'm going to have burns on my face," Magana said. "It gives me 100 percent comfort."Magana is a member of a new Facebook group called Charleston Rain Catchers. Those who are active in the 133-member-strong group share photos of their rainwater harvesting setups and give recommendations on where to find the resources needed to harvest.A tipster posted in the group Monday that the Habitat ReStore at 301 Piedmont Road was getting a shipment of 150 58-gallon used pickle barrels. Amy McLaughlin, ReStore director, said they were "selling like crazy" -- there were only 75 of those barrels left as of Friday afternoon."Currently the demand is a little higher because people are more in tune with water issues and more interested in finding alternative ways of collecting water," McLaughlin said. "I think people will feel safe shopping with us. We make sure we know (the barrels) are food grade, and we know where we're purchasing them from."McLaughlin said there has always been a demand for the used barrels the store receives, which are used to store various food products like pickles, salsa and soy sauce before ending up on her warehouse floor. She said the barrels are safe and USDA certified. "As long as they're food grade, it's safe to put water in it," McLaughlin said. "There's never been any chemicals in these containers."
The barrels may smell like the food product stored in them before, but a thorough washing can remove the odor, she said.
Magana said she is still showering using the 60 gallons of water she collected from the first rainstorm after the Freedom Industries chemical leak. She is only using the water to shower because she is unsure of how to properly filter the water before using it to cook, drink or wash clothing with.She hopes her questions will be answered at a free rainwater harvesting and water solutions workshop at Rock Lake Community Life Center, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22.The workshop was organized by the We Are All Farmers Permaculture Institute of Union Grove, N.C., in response to the chemical leak and the higher interest in rainwater harvesting in the affected area.Permaculture is the branch of environmental design that develops sustainable agriculture.Crystal Cook, a certified permaculture design teacher at the institute, said the featured speaker at the workshop will be Jeremiah Kidd of San Isidro Permaculture in Santa Fe, N.M. Kidd's company specializes in designing and installing active rainwater capturing systems and land restoration through permaculture.The list of speakers will also include Brian Koser, who was trained by the We Are All Farmers Permaculture Institute and now works for the National Institute of Health. He will talk about water filtration and emergency water preparedness
"If you get stuck in a situation where your water isn't clean, how can you treat your water?" Cook said. "These are people who know a lot about these areas and they can answer questions."Christina Diamond, a professional rainwater harvester and consultant, will talk about passive rainwater harvesting and gray water systems: the practice of reusing water for other purposes."If you've used water to wash your clothes and dishes, you can often use it again," Cook said. "She'll talk about what things you can use it for."Magana is looking forward to the workshop, but said she would much rather have tap water she could trust. She said collecting rainwater is much more laborious than using her tap, but she will continue to do it until she's confident the tap water is safe."It's very exhausting to do all this," Magana said. "One of the main comforts of life is not there. I'm just mentally and physically exhausted about everything."The workshop is free and open to the public.Contact writer Marcus Constantino at 304-348-1796 or Follow him at
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