Tucson Progressive

Pamela Powers, a progressive voice for Arizona

Nourish Your Little Piece of the Desert with Rainwater Harvesting

1933 Territorial style burnt adobe.

1933 Territorial style burnt adobe.

Five years ago I bought a 740-square-foot dump in midtown Tucson with a large yard full of goat head burrs and Bermuda Grass. Maybe I was a victim of too many episodes of HGTV design shows, but my plan was to transform this territorial adobe into a cute little home with a yard full of desert-friendly plants, fruit trees, and a vegetable garden– all irrigated with rain water and grey water.

In 2007, the first phase of my remodel was to add a master bedroom suite, utility room, and covered patio– increasing the house to a modest 1240 square feet. The second phase– which began in 2007 and is continuing– was to capture rain water and transform the wasteland that was my yard into a garden retreat. (The attached slide show details this process in photos.)

Soil contouring and other rain water harvesting techniques can solve residential flooding problems.

Soil contouring and other rainwater harvesting techniques can solve residential flooding problems.

Before I started the process, I attended a rainwater harvesting workshop at Stone Curves Co-housing. I spent two weekends digging trenches and installing a cistern with the help of local rainwater harvesting guru Brad Lancaster, landscapers from Technicians for Sustainability, and other volunteers.

Armed with new how-to knowledge, the first step was to design my addition to divert rain water to a future cistern. The entire roof of my home and the addition was sloped toward one scupper on the west side of the house. The patio roof was slanted toward the trees on the east side of the yard.

The second phase was digging– lots of digging. I dug large tree wells around three major trees, a pomegrante bush, and a desert hackberry in my backyard. I even dug in the rain, which is a curiously refreshing exercise in the summer. It also gives you a very clear idea of where the water is and where it goes once you start digging.

Gutter and downspout installed in the back to control run-off from neighbor's garage and guide it to a young tree (instead of to the patio).

Gutter and downspout installed in the back to control run-off from neighbor’s garage and guide it to a young tree (instead of to the patio).

The third phase was to hire a contractor to install gutters, downspouts, and drainage pipe on the patio. Initially, three of the trees were watered with grey water from a washer in a shed in the back, and the other two were watered with runoff from the patio roof.

The fourth phase in January 2010 was to finally install a 900+ gallon cistern, dig a cistern overflow ditch, and add more gutters on my out buildings. With all of the rain that we have this winter, it has been very exciting to watch the cistern fill up repeatedly and overflow into the ditch, carrying the water to other trees. It’s also been rewarding to plant bedding flowers and know that I am not wasting city water when I care for them.

The final phase will be to attach the cistern to my existing drip irrigation system and to plant fruit trees this spring and maybe a garden after the summer heat.

Contoured gardens provide wise use of rain water.

Contoured gardens provide wise use of rainwater.

Using rainwater and grey water helps our desert environment by allowing you to use less ground water, thus reducing your environmental footprint. If you want to learn more about the process, I highly recommend that you read Lancaster’s book, attend a workshop, and buy a good shovel.

This article originally appeared in my Baby Boomer Examiner column. Click here to read about the rainwater harvesting workshop. Rainwater harvesting transformed my yard from a flooded wasteland to a desert oasis.

Rain water collected with gutters and downspouts gives this tree a good drink after a summer rain.

Rainwater collected with gutters and downspouts gives this tree a good drink after a summer rain– instead of flooding the yard.

Rain water cistern about to be installed.

Rainwater cistern about to be installed.

One comment on “Nourish Your Little Piece of the Desert with Rainwater Harvesting

  1. Rain Barrel Guy
    July 8, 2011

    Excellent read, Pamela. There is a huge need for rainwater harvesting in the US, although its not being addressed. I believe rainwater harvesting is not being promoted as far as it should be. If you are looking for a closed system, I recommend the RainReserve Diverter System. It is http://www.rainreserve.com


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This entry was posted on March 2, 2010 by in Arizona, environment, sustainability, Tucson and tagged , , , .
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The Tucson Progressive: Pamela J. Powers

I stand on the side of Love. I believe in kindness to all creatures on Earth and the inherent self-worth of all individuals–not just people who agree with me or look like me.

Widespread economic and social injustice prompted me to become a candidate for the Arizona House, representing Legislative District 9 in the 2016 election.

My platform focused on economic reforms to grow Arizona’s economy, establish a state-based public bank, fix our infrastructure, fully fund public education, grow local small businesses and community banks, and put people back to work at good-paying jobs.

In the Arizona House, I was a strong voice for fiscal responsibility a moratorium on corporate tax breaks until the schools were fully funded, increased cash assistance to the poor, expansion of maternal healthcare benefits, equal rights, choice, unions, education at all levels and protecting our water supply.

After three terms, I retired from the Arizona Legislature in January 2023 but will continue to blog and produce my podcast “A View from the Left Side.”

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