Rainwater harvesting could relieve drought in Southern Arizona

A community garden at Southern Arizona Rain Gutters (S.A.R.G) thrives solely off rain water
A community garden at Southern Arizona Rain Gutters (S.A.R.G) thrives solely off rain water

The parched and arid lands of Southern Arizona may soon see relief from water scarcity thanks to the people who believe help comes from the heavens above.

Harvesting rainwater is one method for conserving ground and surface water, which has been depleting at a faster rate than it can be replenished. This depletion has taken a heavy toll on wildlife in riparian areas, the environment and agriculture.

“One inch of rain on a 1,000 square foot roof will give you about 600 gallons of water,” said Cado Daily, water resources coordinator for the Water Wise program at the University of Arizona.

By connecting a canal to the roof, nearly all of the runoff water during a rainstorm can be directed into basins placed under the downspout and saved for later use. The water can be used for purposes such as land irrigation, washing dishes or clothes, washing one’s car, cooking, or, with proper filtering, can even be used as drinking water.

“Irrigating landscapes and home gardens with storm water or rain can reduce or eliminate the use of supplied water,” Daily said.

According to Daily, landscape irrigation in Southern Arizona can account for up to 45 percent of a residential property’s water consumption.

“In the United States, water is not priced to reflect its full value,” Daily said. “The benefits are beyond monetary.” According to Daily, harvesting rainwater can reduce water bills within a household and reduce electricity costs.

“Hello, we live in a desert,” said Tim Cervantes, administrative director of Cochise Water Project (CWP). “Harvesting rainwater is not a dramatic life change, it’s an easy way to become more environmentally friendly.”

According to Cervantes, CWP has seen a growing public interest in the systems since the company’s start up three years ago.

“We want the idea of conserving water to be as automatic as turning off the lights in your home in order to save on electricity,” Cervantes said. “We are not quite there yet, but I think we will eventually get to that point.”

According to Southern Arizona Rain Gutters (SARG) price estimates, the average cost of a harvesting system for a residential home is approximately $1400. The price includes the installation fee, tank, gutters and downspout. If one were to install the system themselves, the price could be reduced.

The $1400 may seem pricey, but harvesting systems that pass certain level of inspections can qualify for a rebate. The Single-Family Residential Rainwater Harvesting Incentives Rebate Program offers up to a $2000 rebate to cover the cost of installation.

In order to qualify for the Tucson Water rebate, one must also attend an Incentives Program Workshop. The one-time course will show residents the benefits of harvesting rainwater and how to set up the system themselves if they so choose.

The system can be relatively simple to create, but businesses such as CWP and SARG can set up gutters and tanks on residential households or larger buildings.

CWP has placed rainwater systems on residential homes primarily within the Cochise and Santa Cruz areas. The company also has taken on larger projects such as setting up a system at a fire department so that the harvested water fills the fire trucks.

The tank material ranges from plastic to galvanized steel and can hold as little as 50 gallons to upwards of 10,000 gallons.

“Most residential homes will start off with a 65 gallon tank set up,” Cervantes said. “We call this the ‘gateway drug’ because people always want to move to a bigger one.”

Most tanks that CWP places on residential homes hold between 1,000 and 2,500 gallons of rainwater. Homes that utilize tanks as large as 5,000 gallons are usually living solely on the harvested water.

Tucson resident Brad Lancaster harvests, on average, nearly 100,000 gallons of water a year. The only water used in the Lancaster household is rainwater. Lancaster uses his collected water for irrigation, washing dishes and clothing, personal hygiene and has filtered the rain into sanitary drinking water.

“Society has such a let’s buy it mentality that we tend to overlook what is being given to us freely,” Lancaster said. “There’s no need to drain the Colorado river.”

Lancaster has written multiple books on rainwater harvesting. He speaks on the value of harvesting and shows step by step how to place a system on a home.

According to Lancaster, rainwater harvesting also fixes greater issues such as flooding.

“It’s been a learning process but I’ve found out how to finesse these systems to make them easier and more effective,” Lancaster said. “I’m saving myself money and being part of solution instead of a problem.”

Kianna Gardner is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at kiannagardner@email.arizona.edu

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.