Tucsonans harvesting rainwater for future use

Tucsonans harvesting rainwater for future use
Cistern for rainwater harvesting.

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Tucson city leaders will get an update this week on a plan approved in 2017 to set aside $300,000 to help pay for a low income rainwater harvesting program.

According to the update, 107 low income families have taken advantage of the program so far.

One of those is Ramon Romero, who lives in the The Vistas neighborhood on Tucson’s south side.

“It’s 1,500 gallons,” he said. “It’s for my garden.”

Installed just ten days ago, the cistern is getting its first rain and he hopes it is enough that he can stop using the garden hose to water his thirsty fruit trees and start using rainwater.

"My bill is $140 a month," he said. "That's a lot."

He figures he can save at least half that by using rainwater, rather than potable water for his lemon, orange and apricot trees.

For Mike McKission, a University of Arizona journalism teacher, it's not about saving money.

"I don't know that I'm ever going to see a return on my investment based on our water usage," he said. "It's not really about saving dollars."

McKisson received a $2,000 rebate for installing his system but that's still $6,000 short of the final cost.

It has lowered his water use but not so much his water bill.

“We actually got our water bill and year over year, we reduced our water use, you can see it in the graphs,” he said. “Now, it’s not that much money, it’s not near what we paid, but you can see less water use and that’s really cool.”

McKisson spent his summer vacation last year installing a fairly sophisticated system, which includes 11 water basins scattered around his mid-town home.

"I've done a lot of digging, so much so I ended buying an electric digger," he said. "It was ridiculous how much digging I was doing."

His cistern is 2,700 gallons and heavy “so we ended up hiring a crane and having it craned into this spot in the backyard.”

But he adds, getting into the rain water harvesting business, doesn't have to be as complicated, labor intensive and expensive as his adventure.

"There a lots of ways to get started," he said. "Yes, I went a little nuts, a little crazy with it."

He said collecting rain in a five gallon bucket and using it to water plants when its dry is a valuable exercise as well.

"We all have priorities about what's important in life," he said. "But this is a thing I recognize as being important, important for my family."

Water shortages on the Colorado River are looming in the next few years which makes the goal of using rainwater that more important and possibly more economical in the future.

Tucson Water continues to raise it’s rates at 5 percent to 8 percent a year. At some time, it will begin to bite.

“It’s hard to recognize the financial benefit to it early on, so it has to be something you want to do because you think it’s right, and important and maybe nice,” McKisson said.

“There’s no reason we should be using drinking water to water our plants,” he said. “Absolutely no reason.”

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