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Rain to Table: Beat the Drought

Create your local water budget and harvest rain at home.

April 14, 2017

Rain to Table

Feeling parched? Late winter rains were scarce in the Sonoran Desert, and we’re entering the driest, hottest part of the year. For those of us depending on water in our cisterns to get us through this dry season, we’re carefully monitoring our water use and hoping the summer monsoons come early.

Has the long-term drought changed how you use water? The drought has impacted most of the Western United States over the last decade, with grave impacts on the Colorado River watershed, which currently supplies 85% of Tucson’s water supply.

Colorado River supplies continue to decrease with extended drought, climate change, and overuse. The situation is dire: Lake Mead, the largest reservoir for Arizona’s water supply, has been at historic lows, prompting statewide drought contingency planning efforts. Our water utility, Tucson Water, is looking at ways to help with this effort, as well as offering some of the most robust water harvesting and water conservation rebates in the country.

Here’s the kicker: Colorado River water is actually not necessary for us to live in the Sonoran Desert. Lucky for us, we have two rainy seasons – the winter and summer – which can be harvested for beneficial use. In fact, more rain falls on Tucson than we use through our municipal water supply annually. As citizens, we don’t need to wait for the government to act; we can take action today.

The first step down the path of your independence from unsustainable Colorado River water is to create a local water budget for your home. Join our Rain to Table campaign and check out our online water budget calculator. By answering a few simple questions about your personal water use, we’ll help you create your own local water budget.

A local water budget is just like your personal bank account. Your bank account has income, expenses, and a running balance. For your local water budget, the “income” is local, renewable water supply; the “expense” is your family’s indoor and outdoor water demand; and the “balance” is any additional water left over that can go back to the environment.

Local, renewable water is made up of rainwater, greywater, stormwater, and natural groundwater recharge. Our water budget calculator only focuses on rainwater and greywater – sources of water than anyone can harvest at home.

Once you calculate your local water budget, start by transitioning your outdoor water needs to use harvested water instead of municipal water. If you go for a hike in the desert, you will see a wide diversity of plants surviving on rainfall alone. So, all you have to do is contour your yard with basins, berms, and swales (also known as earthworks) to slow and capture rain.

In Tucson, outdoor water use makes up 30% of our municipal water demand. We can significantly cut back our demand on Colorado River water by switching to harvested water for our landscapes.

Once you’ve got the earthworks in place, you can graduate to collecting water in tanks. The stored water will help get through those dry seasons, like April – June, when we can’t count on rainfall to irrigate our veggies and fruit trees.

With rainwater harvesting we can be proactive to beat the drought, storing water both in the soil and tanks, to make it through those hot, dry months to the next desert rain. Make the commitment to joining this movement in honor of Earth Day, and join our Rain to Table campaign this month! Tag your water harvesting efforts with the hashtag #RainToTable for the chance to win a free consultation from Watershed Management Group (a $175 value). Visit to learn more.

New to the Rain to Table movement? Click here to learn about our commitment to helping you harvest rainwater!

Header image by Adela Antoinette from the article “Rain to Table” in our March/April 2017 issue. 

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