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Cunningham: Recent monsoon rains show importance of water harvesting

It’s a good week to talk about rainwater and its importance as a potential resource for Tucson. As of this week, 2021’s monsoon total (1.64 inches) has already passed the total for the entire 2020 monsoon season (1.61 inches). Despite the flooded streets and occasional downed tree, we Tucsonans appreciate the relief that monsoon season can give us. 

An inch of rain in Tucson means 327,000,000 gallons of water. To give you an idea of how much that is, a typical Tucsonan uses a little less than 28,000 gallons of water in a year.  

In the city limits, that rain is falling mostly on what’s called hardscape: asphalt and concrete. Sometimes we even design our gardens at home, with things like mounds rather than basins, that can encourage runoff. 

Brad Lancaster is a nationally known expert on harvesting rainwater and he lives here in Tucson. After this week’s rains, he put up a video on YouTube showing one of the roadside basins in his neighborhood. He shows that a few simple design features increases how much rain the ground absorbs significantly.

Fifteen years ago, the city put in policies to encourage water harvesting. What Brad shows in that video was illegal to do in Tucson for a long time. We have not only changed that but we give grants to neighborhoods to put in curb cuts and similar features to capture storm water runoff. We also offer incentives to homeowners who want to do anything from simple changes in their yard to optimize water capture to installing an active water harvesting system with gutters and a tank. My office also worked on making these programs more accessible to lower-income homeowners and neighborhoods.  

While we have done a lot to encourage residential rainwater harvesting, there is still much more we can do to encourage water harvesting from parking lots and commercial developments. Think of how much comes from a parking lot at a shopping mall, for example. 

If you’d like more information, you can check Tucson Water’s information site at www.tucsonaz.gov/water/rainwater-harvesting-rebate. You can also check out Brad Lancaster’s very comprehensive site on water harvesting at www.harvestingrainwater.com

Enjoy the rain, and let’s make sure it’s not wasted. 

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Paul Cunningham represents Ward 2 on the Tucson City Council.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Neighbors plant trees and other plants in basins designed to harvest rainwater along Alvernon Way near Broadway in September 2019.

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