A great way to save money on your water bill and reduce the amount of water withdrawn from the aquifer is to use a rain barrel.

The water savings from using stored rainwater rather than municipal or well water can be substantial over a period of time. A rain barrel may not provide all the water needed to sustain all your plants, but some houseplants or even an entire vegetable garden can certainly benefit.

If you currently have a standard irrigation system, you may be able to turn off the sprinkler zones that are in flower beds and use stored rainwater instead.

Typically, the rain barrel is connected to the gutter downspout of the house. For a general calculation, you can collect about a half-gallon of water per square foot of roof area during a one-inch rainfall. A typical half-inch rainfall event will fill a 50- to 55-gallon barrel.

Multiple rain barrels can be linked together with PVC or flexible hose to increase storage capabilities. However, with a screen modification on the lid, the rain barrel can be located anywhere in order to collect open rainfall. It will take a lot longer to fill but may be more practical if the area you want to water is a good distance from the house.

Now is the time to prepare for the long, hot season to come. Join me at 10:30 a.m. May 2 at the Crestview Public Library for a demonstration on how to build a rain barrel. The program is free to the public. All participants are entered into a drawing for a free assembled rain barrel. Everyone is also welcome to purchase a clean, empty barrel for $35 or an assembled, ready-to-go one for $60.

Contact the Okaloosa County Extension office for more information or to purchase a barrel.

Sheila Dunning is an agent at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension office in Crestview.