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Winners of rain barrel art competition honored at Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Painted in bright colors depicting environmental themes, 55-gallon drums artfully recycled into rain barrels were on display Friday at Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

And the artists responsible for those creations – teachers and students from local public and private schools – were recognized for their achievements during an awards presentation ceremony in the gallery’s auditorium.

Attractive as they are, the barrels are intended for another purpose: reducing contaminated water that flows over hard surfaces.

“They’re not just to look beautiful,” County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said at the awards ceremony.

During the course of a year, the 52 barrels entered in the competition can save 52,000 gallons of water – contaminated as it flows over hard surfaces – from entering storm systems, he noted.

“I cannot thank you enough for your labor of love, your creativity,” added Janné Siren, director of Albright-Knox.

The theme for the third annual rain barrel competition, sponsored by Erie County, was “One Earth, One Chance – Save the Rain.” Entrants were challenged to learn more about stormwater-pollution prevention and how it keeps pollutants out of local waterways.

Participation has grown from fewer than a dozen entries the first year to 52 this year. Clubs and libraries also submitted entries.

Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Buffalo donated the barrels, in which syrup concentrate for its products are shipped, and converted them to store rainwater for reuse.

“Water is a key element to our beverages and to the sustainability of our businesses,” said Pasquale “Pat” Greco, director of operations, who noted Coca-Cola’s own efforts at recycling water. "Our ultimate goal is to replace every gallon of water that we remove from the environment.”

Since 2008, Coca-Cola has donated more than 70,000 barrels worldwide, Greco said.

The competition is held in conjunction with the annual observance of Earth Day on April 22.

“No matter what you do, treat every day like Earth Day and we’ll all be better for it,” Poloncarz told the included students.

Prizes of $500, $250 and $100, respectively, were awarded to the top three entries in three school categories. Fourth-place finishers received honorable mentions.

First-place awards went to: Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament School in Depew, kindergarten through fourth grade; Heim Middle School Art Class in the Williamsville School District, middle school; and Springville-Griffith Institute High School Art Class, high school.

In addition, four municipalities received Environmental Excellence Awards from the county’s Environmental Management Council. The winners were: City of Buffalo, for its electronic waste recycling program; Town of Aurora, for the Reading Road ditch reconfiguration; Town of Grand Island, for the Woods Creek living shorelines project; and Village of Williamsville, for its pending Spring Street streetscape and green infrastructure project.