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Watershed Management - By Matt Vieth

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    Water harvesting is not a new practice. In fact, it is an ancient concept dating back as early as 5,000 BC, which played a crucial role in the success and development of civilizations in the regions of modern-day India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan (The History of Rainwater). Traditionally, water harvesting has referred to the collection of rainstorm runoff in various catchments, such as cisterns or shallow aquifers, for immediate use or storage. This stored water is then utilized for irrigating crops and supplying animals and people (Hillel). With modern plumbing and readily available water, the need to practice water harvesting has decreased and is now infrequently used.

    In Tucson, when driving around while it’s raining, you may notice that the water is rushing into dry riverbeds, with the intent of draining away instead of being captured. Although this may have been a good idea at the time, it no longer is. Currently, the infrastructure for rainwater in Tucson is inadequate and may lead to flooding (Ghasemi Tousi et al). Tucson primarily relies on water from either the Colorado River or underground aquifers, both of which are being overused.  most of its water from either the Colorado river or underground aquifers; both are being overused. In addition to the river being over utilized, climate change is also altering the weather patterns and rainfall in Tucson (Pour et al).

    Anecdotally, Tucson is experiencing fewer, but more intense monsoon storms. When looking at climate data from 1991 through 2020, there is evidence that indicates that, on average, Tucson receives one inch less of rainfall annually (Madison). With our rainfall decreasing and our sources of water decreasing, we need to be wise about our water. Compared to other states like Colorado and Utah, Tucson is more proactive in water harvesting, with efforts to promote and encourage its practice (Cummings). This is great, but further action is required, and we need to go back to our roots and expand our water harvesting practices.

    Today, water harvesting encompasses more than just rainwater. It includes grey water, which refers to water generated from your washing machine or shower, that does not contain waste products. By utilizing both grey water and storm water, this is one way we can conserve water. But this does not come without work and money; fortunately, in Tucson there is an organization that is working with residents on water harvesting. Watershed Management is a local organization that has various levels of water harvesting solutions for homes. They provide options such as where they will come consult with you and help design your yard, they offer classes to build your own water basin, which is a large ditch filled with organic material to hold water until it can absorb into the ground, they collaborate with homeowners to install grey water harvesting from your washing machine. Moreover, they offer a “co-op” option. As a unique opportunity, participating in the co-op involves visiting someone else’s home to help with their water harvesting and landscaping, and in return when you are ready for your yard, you will receive aa discounted rate on the services, and a different “co-op” member will come to assist, providing them with valuable learning they can learn. Given the complexity and significance of water harvesting practices, this paper will delve deeper into a couple of different personal experiences with Watershed Management.

    In 2010, Mara started her journey with Watershed Management. Recognizing the value of water as a precious resource, she was determined to play her part in water conservation and hoped it would lead to reduced water bills. In one sense this did decrease her water bill, but because this allowed her to plant more plants, her water bill stayed the same. Leading up to her yard project, Mara volunteered 60 hours of her time with Watershed Management, assisting in installing various water harvesting techniques at different homes. Through this experience, she learned how to divert her washing machine water to her yard instead of the sewage system. She took a class for this as well, which earned her a certification and a slight discount on her water/sewage bill.

    Upon completing her volunteer hours, Mara collaborated with the organization’s landscape designers to create a personalized backyard design. She provided input on her preferences, such as room for her dogs to still run in the backyard while keeping the cistern out of sight. With this input, the design team sketched her eco-friendly backyard.

    After Mara approved the design, the construction phase commenced with the assistance of a project manager assigned by Watershed Management. First the gutters were installed by a recommended outside company. For the first day of construction, an excavator was rented for most of the heavy digging. This allowed PVC pipes to be buried, enabling the placement of her 1,000-gallon water cistern behind her shed, approximately 30 feet away from her house. Watershed Management directed the project manager and other volunteers at Mara’s house for three days, during which they handled much of the planting and helped construct the water basins.  Although Mara had her fair share of work to finish, the major construction tasks were completed with their support.

    As the final product, Mara had her washing machine grey water irrigating a newly planted tree, two rain basins in her front yard, three rain basin in her backyard, a cistern capable of holding 1,000 gallons of roof water runoff, and appropriate drainage should her backyard flood and it need to go to the street. The total cost for this project ranged between four and five thousand dollars. She does not remember the rebate amounts, but she knows she received rebates from the city of Tucson for her water management practices. Additionally, she received a discount on her construction because she gave 60 hours of her time to help others. When asked if she would do it again, she said she would, but she would rather hire someone to help with the build. She felt as if the project manager knew what to do on paper, but when it came to implementing the design, there were minor issues, such as lack of organization (Jameson). As mentioned, this is just one route that could be taken with Watershed Management, and there are more.

    A different approach would be what CM and his husband George did for their yard. They enrolled in a couple of courses offered, including Build Your Own Basin and Water Harvesting Rebate Class. They had a good idea what they wanted their yard to look like, but just needed the tools to do so. After completing the classes, they felt confident in their ability to handle the yard work themselves, essentially acting as their own project manager. Although they opted against grey water usage from the washing machine, they did install water basins and cisterns to harvest rainfall (Peterson).

     In total, they possess 3,000 gallons of cisterns which they utilize whenever water is available, along with 3 rain basins. They have several mature trees in their yard making these rain basins a great and efficient way to water them.  The rain basins are designed so that they fill first, and then if any extra water runs off into the street (Peterson). Personally, witnessing their practices in action, I can attest that their efforts have proven effective. On Monday, July 17, 2023, during a severe monsoon storm, I was at their house and observed how each rain basin efficiently filled and then redirected any additional water away from their home and into the street.  Not only are their rain basins effective, but they have also shared with me that they did observe a decrease in their water bill after they completed their water harvesting (Peterson). 

    Regarding the cisterns, they had a clear plan in mind as to their designated location and function, leading them to hire a professional to install them. They spent roughly $3,000 on their cisterns and gutters and received a rebate of roughly $1,000 for taking the classes and installing the cisterns.

    The experiences of Mara and CM and George working with Watershed Management showcase the positive impact of water harvesting practices on both water conservation and financial savings. Through their commitment in the organization’s classes and initiatives, they transformed their yards into eco-friendly landscapes that efficiently utilize rainwater and other water sources.

    Mara’s commitment to water harvesting not only allowed her to create a lush garden without raising her water bill, she was able to contribute to her community by volunteering with Watershed Management. Similarly, CM and George took it upon themselves to create their backyard oasis. They successfully used the knowledge gained from the courses to act as their project managers to install cisterns and rain basins, thus demonstrating the versatility of water harvesting methods.

    In this era of increasing water scarcity and environmental concerns, the desert oases created by Mara and Cm and George serve as models for sustainable and responsible water management. Their journeys with Watershed Management showcase the different possibilities of water harvesting, and they demonstrate the importance of education and community involvement to foster a culture of conservation.

    As Watershed Management continues to engage with residents and offer valuable resources, more individuals will likely be inspired to adopt water harvesting practices. Watershed Management could reach a larger audience if they worked with the water companies in Tucson to spread information on ways customers can save money through water harvesting, while also striving to be eco-friendly. Often, these water harvesting practices do increase the value of your home, but more importantly, they contribute to a more sustainable future for our planet. Through this, we can work together to secure a greener, water-wise world, where every drop is cherished.

    Works Cited

    Cummings, Katherine. “Adapting to Water Scarcity: A Comparative Analysis of Water Harvesting Regulation in the Four Corner States.” Journal of Environmental Law & Litigation, vol. 27, 2012, pp. 539–570

    Ghasemi Tousi, Erfan, et al. “Climate Changes Impact on Stormwater Infrastructure Design in Tucson Arizona.” Sustainable Cities and Society, vol. 72, 2021, p. 103014,

    Hillel, D. “Water Harvesting.” Encyclopedia of Soils in the Environment, 2005, pp. 264–270,

    “The History of Rainwater Harvesting.” Harvesting Aqua, 28 June 2020,

    Jameson, Mara. Interview. Conducted by Matthew Vieth, 15 July 2023.

    Madison, April. “How Has Monsoon Changed over the Years? Or Has It?” KGUN 9 Tucson News, 9 June 2021,

    Peterson, C.M. Interview. Conducted by Matthew Vieth, 15 July 2023.

    Pour, Sahar Hadi, et al. “Low Impact Development Techniques to Mitigate the Impacts of Climate-Change-Induced Urban Floods: Current Trends, Issues and Challenges.” Sustainable Cities and Society, vol. 62, 2020, p. 102373,

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