June 14, 2008

Conservationists Tap into Monsoon



Planning for the monsoon?

If you're reliant on evaporative cooling, make a list of air- conditioned friends you'd like to visit in the upcoming, muggy afternoons.

Get your leaky roof fixed or your peeling roof re-coated.

Then you might begin thinking about where the water your roof sheds will wind up.

Harvesting rainwater is gaining steam in Tucson. Across the valley, people are gearing up to capture, slow and direct the water that hits our roofs or runs down our streets.

* Along North Treat Avenue in the Blenman-Elm neighborhood, residents are using grants from Pro Neighborhoods and the Ward 6 City Council Office to cut curbs before the rains come in July, diverting storm runoff from the street into the rock-lined basins where they have recently planted native trees.

* At his home on Arroyo Chico, Richard Roati, with help from non- profit Watershed Management Group, is installing a 1,000-gallon cistern to divert the roof runoff, which sometimes floods his backyard, to more useful purposes, like watering his citrus trees.

Roati remembers looking out his front door after one particularly prodigious downpour that overflowed the arroyo and filled the street curb to curb.

"I'm doing my best to try to keep that water in Tucson where we can grow some shade and eat up some carbon dioxide," Roati said.

* Tucson gets half its annual rainfall from July through September, and Tucsonans who have decided to start catching the rain are hurrying to beat its arrival, said Kevin Koch of Technicians for Sustainability, which installs cisterns. "We've been very busy," he said.

* In the foothills of the Tucson Mountains west of town, the residents of Milagro Co-housing have mastered the water-capture business. All the water that falls on Milagro, and all the water used in the 28 homes there, is kept on site by careful design.

Six years after the community was built, the mature landscaping of its common areas has created a climate considerably cooler than the desert that surrounds Milagro and the asphalt-crazy city down the hill.

"In summer, when I wear shorts, I can feel the cold air drainage, like water, flowing on my legs," said Bob Gilby, one of the original residents. "Once you build something like this, the treats come fast, furious and cheap."

Brad Lancaster, who co-designed the water capture systems at Milagro with David Confer, calls that feeling "the bun dance of abundance" in his many presentations to local groups.

Lancaster, author of "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond," says in his books, and in a recent interview, that people shouldn't rush into elaborate rainwater-catchment systems at their existing homes.

The first of his "Eight Principles of Rainwater Harvesting," in fact, is "Begin with long and thoughtful observation."

Watch where the water goes, he said, then make some modest improvements.

"Just start by creating some simple water-harvesting earthworks around or beside some shade-tree plantings, preferably some native trees," Lancaster said.

Don't disturb the soil under established trees, Lancaster advised, as you might damage the tree's roots. Mound dirt around the drip line of the tree, he said, and mulch beneath its branches. "Create the living sponge," he said.

Lisa Shipek of the Watershed Management Group agrees that you should start small and expand.

"If you have established landscape, put in berm features, little raised bars of dirt. Behind a tree, for example, where you're having runoff, set up a berm perpendicular to the water's flow."

And cisterns, she said, "are not that hard to do." Her non- profit offers free workshops on how to install them.

There is a waiting list for enrollment, she said.


These four photos from Milagro Co-housing show a variety of water harvesting techniques used there.


* The second volume of Brad Lancaster's "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond," released earlier this year, deals specifically with water-harvesting earthworks. Read more about Lancaster's books and find links for rainwater-harvesting tips and supplies at his Web site: www.harvestingrainwater.com

* Learn more about Watershed Management Group and sign up for workshops and tours at http:watershedmg.org

* Learn more about Milagro Co-housing and its rainwater- capturing techniques at www.milagrocohousing.org

On StarNet: Find photos, multimedia, a blog and more coverage at azstarnet.com/monsoon

* Contact reporter Tom Beal at 573-4158 or [email protected]

Originally published by TOM BEAL, ARIZONA DAILY STAR.

(c) 2008 Arizona Daily Star. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.