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Rene Michalak
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Red Deer, Alberta, Canada
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#H2Whoah - Arizona Rainwater Harvesting Tour

Posted by Rene Michalak over 7 years ago

June 29, 2015 - Aside from the inherent challenges of water management in desert drylands, Arizona's water situation is even more dire than that of California.

(see Part 1 - "#H2Whoah - Big Drought Stories Worth Paying Attention To", and the articles linked below)

WMG Office
The Watershed Management Group Office in downtown Tucson (Speedway Blvd & Dodge St.)
(photo credit: Rene Michalak)

From June 9th through the 13th, I had the opportunity to travel to Arizona and meet with the experts of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) for review of their developing Rainwater Harvesting Training Manual in Phoenix and to visit with the team at the Watershed Management Group, including rainwater harvesting expert and author Brad Lancaster in Tucson.

See the pictures of the trip HERE including a little narrative about my trek across the Sonora Desert to the Tucson International Airport...!

Aside from the inherent challenges of water management in desert drylands, Arizona's water situation is even more dire than that of California - for background, see Part 1 - "#H2Whoah - Big Drought Stories Worth Paying Attention To", and the articles linked below.


New NASA Data Show the World is Running Out of Fresh Water
More than half of Earth’s 37 largest aquifers are being depleted, according to gravitational data from the GRACE satellite system.

Where the World is Running Out of Water
Groundwater loss isn't just a California problem: According to a recent study by researchers at NASA and the University of California-Irvine, humans are depleting more than half of the world's 37 largest aquifers at unsustainable rates, and there is virtually no accurate data showing how much water is left.

Welcome to the Thirsty West: a month-long series about the devastating drought facing a corner of the country (US)
Driving through the Arizona desert between Tucson and Phoenix, it’s easy to see the remnants of agricultural boom times. Irrigated agriculture in the Arizona desert peaked in the 1950s and has steadily declined as urbanization’s water demand has exploded.

How an Historical Blunder Helped Create the Water Crisis in the West
In 1922, seven Western states - Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming and California - drew up an agreement on how to divide the waters of the Colorado River. But there was one big problem with the plan: They overestimated how much water the river could provide. As a result, each state was promised more water than actually exists. This miscalculation - and the subsequent mismanagement of water resources in those states - has created a water crisis that now affects nearly 40 million Americans.

Killing the Colorado
The river that sustains 40 million Americans is dying, and man, not nature is to blame

Arid Tucson Leads the Way in Water Conservation Out West
Having faced a water crisis in the 1970s, Arizona’s second city may have lessons for drought-racked region.

Tucson's Rain Catching Revolution
In the Sonoran Desert, rainwater harvesting is finally going mainstream.

Dry Heat: As Lake Mead Hits Record Lows and Water Shortages Loom, Arizona Prepares for the Worst
At the start of May, Lake Mead, which sits on the border of Nevada and Arizona, set a new record low - the first time since the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s that the lake’s surface has dipped below 1,080 feet above sea level. The West’s drought is so bad that official plans for water rationing have now begun - with Arizona’s farmers first on the chopping block.

Beyond the Mirage (Documentary)
Civilization depends on water. Do you take it for granted? In the coming years, Arizona will begin experiencing water shortages. Agriculture will be affected first, but ultimately, we will have to adapt our cities and infrastructure to harness new sources of water as well. The next steps that Arizona takes will be watched by the entire world as they also come to grips with a new water reality.

Urban Water Harvesting Systems - Brad Lancaster
Brad Lancaster, dry lands water harvesting expert and author of "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond", speaks at the Tenth International Permaculture Conference (IPC10) about the story of Tucson's watershed, water harvesting need, and the potential in urban systems.

Serving as the Education Committee Chair for ARCSA and having just merged the organization with the Canadian Association for Rainwater Management, this was the perfect opportunity to meet my colleagues in person and put some faces to names while visiting ground zero of the evolving freshwater crisis in the western part of the continent. The first three days of the trip were spent indoors, reviewing the nineteen chapters of the new ARCSA Training Manual which is replacing the Texas A&M version the organization has been using for the past while. From the link, "The manual was created to help contractors, consultants, land owners, and others plan rainwater harvesting systems. It addresses catchments that are less than 50,000 square feet and can store less than 100,000 gallons. It covers all aspects of planning, installing, operating and maintaining such systems, as well as the distribution of water for landscapes, pets, wildlife, livestock, and private potable and nonpotable in-home rainwater systems."

Why is this important? Well, the story of the local watershed is one of overdrawn aquifers and land development that removes the native vegetation and treats stormwater as a liability instead of an asset. As the above news articles explain in great detail, population growth and development pressure are misaligned with an ever-increasing demand on limited and declining freshwater resources. As Brad Lancaster says, "Enough rainwater falls on the City of Tucson than the entire municipality uses in a typical year". But it is channeled away instead of being stored as rainwater to help meet this demand.

Check out his storybook-themed website, "American Oasis" HERE. It tells the story of the Tucson watershed from the perspective of its native inhabitants and shares best practices for stormwater management to restore native dryland environment and ecosystems.

In addition to rainwater harvesting education, Brad is one of the Senior Watershed Specialists working with the Watershed Management Group (WMG) who are dedicated to develop and implement community-based solutions to ensure the long-term prosperity of people and health of the environment. Their grassroots Green Co-op model provides people with the knowledge, skills, and resources for sustainable livelihoods. Taking the shuttle down from Phoenix to Tucson at the end of the week, I was lucky enough to get a quick tour of the office Learning Centre and Brad's homestead ("garottage") to see the infamous and positive deviance-inspired "curb cuts" that now define urban stormwater management in Tucson. Check out the virtual (video) tour:

Following the tours, Brad "bike-taxied" me downtown for a gourmet Mexican-infused supper at Penca with WMG leaders Lisa and Catlow Shipek to talk about the on-the-ground water management situation in Arizona. I tasted Tepache, a pineapple beer (made from fermented pineapple rinds) for the first time and it was delicious!

Check out the WMG website - especially their 50-year goal to restore year-round flow to Arizona's rivers and tributaries. Worth noting, the City of Tucson is using the balance of their water allocation from the Central Valley Project to recharge the groundwater aquifer every two years and are working directly with the WMG in their outreach efforts including providing meaningful financial support.

Thankfully, things aren't as doom and gloom as the media is making them out to be. With the efforts of groups like WMG, Arizona communities are reconnecting with their sense of place, a renewed relationship with water, and together they are making lemons into lemonade... or run-off into run-on... which is right on!

Overall, the trip was very valuable... except for the case of "air conditionitis" (head cold) I brought back caused by the extreme temperature differential between desert heat and air-conditioned "comfort"... something akin to jumping from a refrigerator into a convection oven. Luckily, I left the state just as temps started to creep into the +40C range and the impending monsoon season! Dry heat is bearable, but add the humidity and it's downright awful... crying

Stay tuned for more on the development of rainwater harvesting as a high-impact means of managing urban water challenges while we come together as communities to meet the challenges of climate change in Alberta!

Rene Michalak, ARCSA Education Committee Chair / CANARM Prairie Chapter Governor

Comments (1)

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Rodney Robinson
Rodney Robinson : Good show on the water catchment! No well on my Southern Minnesota 2 acres. I have a 32x36 pole shed and I collect water from its roof into eight 275 gallon tanks. Best of luck on your projects. Rodney
Posted over 7 years ago

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