According to the National Weather Service, the summer of 2012 was the tenth driest summer on record for Arkansas, with the months of April through July being the driest ever recorded for the state.?The drought was already categorized as "extreme" by mid- June, and the lack of rainfall made many people think about how important our water supply is, and about ways to conserve water.
Sara Sisemore, a self-professed nature lover, was one of the people. "I like having living stuff in my room!" she said. "I tried to do fish last year, but that didn’t really work for me. So I have plants." The sophomore from Pelsor, Ark. knew from past experience that rainwater is the best water to use on plants - it’s naturally soft water, without minerals, chorine, fluoride, and other chemicals. "I wanted to do something green, and I’ve seen the sprinklers and how much water we use on that. I thought [installing rain barrels] would be a good idea - a good way to save something," she explained.
A rain barrel is, quite simply, a barrel used to collect and store rainwater. They are typically installed at the bottom of a gutter system downspout to capture runoff from the roof of a building. Many home rain barrel systems use plastic barrels which hold 55 gallons of liquid - given a 1000 sq. ft. roof catchment area, these barrels can be filled by as little as 1/10th of an inch of rain! The collected water can then be used for things like irrigating landscaping beds, reducing the amount of treated water that has to be drawn from the municipal water system. Directing rainwater into barrels can also significantly cut down on soil erosion and flooding in low-lying areas.
Encouraged by the reactions she got to the idea, Sisemore presented it to the Student Government Association, asking if they would be in support of a Planet Club initiative to install rain barrels on campus. With a preliminary "yes" from SGA, she then brought up the idea to Lauren Ray, president of Planet Club.
As it turned out, the timing for Sisemore’s proposal couldn’t have been better. "[Planet Club] really wanted to take that on, but we didn’t know where to start," said Ray. "So when our Applied Anthropology class started trying to come up with ideas for a Rapid Assessment Procedure project, I kind of pushed that idea - why don’t we do this for our class project because it is something Planet Club really wants to do too."
The Rapid Assessment Procedure project was an assignment given to the entire class by Dr. Kristin Hedges, who taught the Applied Anthropology course. R.A.P. is a technique used to investigate problems or solutions when time isn’t available for long-term research. It involves collaboration between members of an interdisciplinary team to collect and analyze data, and allows the researchers to quickly gain a preliminary understanding of the problem from the viewpoint of the stakeholders.
"All semester [the students] have been learning how anthropological skills can be used in the real world, and on different issues," Hedges said. "They’ve really been focusing on how important it is to talk to local people and really understand the culture, and talk to stakeholders, and get people’s opinions before you implement a project, if you want it to be sustainable."
The students in the class, Noah Holle, a freshman biology major from Enid, Okla.; Caitlin Lambert, a senior sociology major, from Waldron, Ark.; Evan Meagher, a senior business management major from Lafayette, La.; Lauren Ray, a senior environmental studies major from Springdale, Ark.; Anaeli Rodas, a sophomore sociology and strategic communication major from Guatemala City, Guatemala; and Karlye Tolley, a junior psychology major, from Clarksville, Ark., decided to take on Planet Club as their "client" and conduct a R.A.P. to determine the feasibility of the proposed rain barrel initiative.
The objective was to allow campus and community stakeholders to provide their thoughts and inputs on the project; to calculate the costs and benefits; and evaluate the overall feasibility of installing rain barrels on the campus. Was this something that would benefit the campus, and more importantly, was it something the campus community would support?
Kristin Hedges, instructor of anthropology (left) and the students in her Applied Anthropology class (Karlye Tolley, Noah Holle, Lauren Ray, Anaeli Rodas and Caitlin Lambert) show the barrel which will be used for the pilot rain barrel project on the Ozarks campus.