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Water from an intense downpour can overwhelm a storm sewer system and lead to backups into basements. Collecting water in a rain barrel can reduce the risk, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada. (Neil Carleton/CBC)

The insurance industry is suggesting homeowners look at using rain barrels as a way to protect basements during a heavy downpour of rain.

A study in Wingham, Ont., determined collecting rain water in barrels can reduce the flow to the storm sewer collection system by 70 per cent.

Water in basements is often attributed to a storm sewer that is overwhelmed by an intense downpour.

A spokesman for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, an industry association, said the cost of dealing with water damage in homes is substantial.

"$1.7 billion annually, that's in water damage to Canadians' homes," Bill Adams said. "And that actually surpasses the amount of damage caused by fire to Canadians homes.

The rain barrel study is also examining the use of a small attachment used to drain collected water.

The device, a cap that has a pinhole, lets water drain out of a rain barrel slowly.

It costs 25 cents.

About 500 homes in Wingham are taking part in the rain barrel study.

Adams said using a rain barrel is one way homeowners can protect themselves, even if the local infrastructure needs upgrades.

"We know that there's not as much money out there in municipalities to replace all the failed infrastructure," Adams said. "By taking the peak demand off, this will allow perhaps those systems to serve that community a little longer."

The study findings were shared as part of a meeting of municipal leaders in Saskatoon.

With files from CBC's Kathy Fitzpatrick