RiverSides was founded in May 2002 in response stormwater crises in the Toronto area: flooded basements, closed beaches, and polluted rivers and streams. These post-storm problems were happening in other cities too, but at that time, RiverSides was a lone voice on the local landscape. We believed that many solutions to such costly problems lay in the hands of ordinary citizens. We advocated for residential management of urban stormwater. With no widely respected solution available, we created one: large-capacity, sturdy rain barrels to simply and effectively divert stormwater.
Developed in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the RiverSides rain barrel was designed to withstand the rigours of the Canadian winter. By 2016 more than 5,000 rain barrels had been manufactured, sold, and installed by leading-edge stormwater programs in Washington, DC; Buffalo, NY; Pittsburgh, PA; and municipalities across Ontario. The 500 L RiverSides rain barrel with its large capacity, filter, easy maintenance, and all-season durability is seen as the gold standard of rain barrels.
After more than ten years manufacturing, selling, installing and maintaining these rain barrel systems across North America, we identified key limitations: on-site collection wasn’t as efficient as it could be, therefore the collective potentional to capture rainwater was not maximized as it could be. We began to look for solutions that would use technology to measure on-site rainwater collection and allow the rain barrels to be managed online, individually and collectively.
In 2013 Kevin Mercer, RiverSides’s Founder and Manager, designed a first-of-its-kind automated controller for the barrels, called RainGrid. This automated system allows real-time monitoring and control of the rain barrel’s water level. In 2015, RainGrid Inc. spun off from RiverSides as a separate and distinct for-profit green technology company (and went on to win several local and international green business awards).
Meanwhile, RiverSides has reorganized. We focus on testing, building, and improving networks of residential automated rain barrels in neighbourhoods close to the urban ravine systems that make up the Ontario Bluebelt. After a decade of designing and implementing community-based rain barrel programs, we deeply understand the challenges of measuring and maximizing rainwater collection. We may not have written the book on residential stormwater management, but we wrote the brochure!
With the generous support of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) through a North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action (NAPECA) grant, RiverSides built and launched the first-of-its-kind community pilot using automated rain barrels in a neighbourhood near the Don River in Toronto. From July 1 to October 15, 2016, 15 households were able to capture and manage almost 50,000 L of free water— despite seasonally low rainfall and severe drought.
In early 2017 RiverSides will release a detailed report on this pilot project. This report will document the metrics collected and measure the potential for automated rain barrels as a scalable, cost-effective, and preventive stormwater management tool.
We believe our cities need even more responsive green infrastructure. This conviction underpins our current work, which includes a new goal of installing 15,000 automated barrels within the Bluebelt — which, by 2021, will include the urban ravine systems of southern Ontario. From our pilot results, we can conservatively project that 15,000 of these systems would provide the strategic capture, use, and management of more than 100 million L of rainwater per year.