Stop 11: Water Harvesting

Large steel cistern
A galvanized steel tank stores water for the water features and landscaping.

This second cistern supports the water features and provides irrigation for the landscaping. It is made of galvanized steel with a heavy polyethylene liner. It holds 6,500 gallons of water, also collected from the roof of the DRLC. A set of underground pipes connects it to the tinaja and stream, where an electric pump circulates the water through the features. The stored rainwater also supports native landscaping plants, gardens, and the heritage orchard via a drip irrigation system.

Harvesting rain when it falls and saving it for later use is a powerful tool against drought. Since 1980, drought has cost the U.S. economy about $226 billion. Of all disasters related to weather and climate, only hurricanes have been costlier.

Climate models are uncertain about future precipitation patterns. What we do know is that higher temperatures increase both water demand and evaporation—and that many areas, including Tucson, are already exceeding the range of natural variability for extreme warm temperatures.

  • Plant native plants.
  • Use native landscaping materials.
  • Water early or late in the day.
  • Consider installing an active (cistern) water-harvesting system at your home or business.

Drought can be hard to define. Generally speaking, it is a lack of water significant enough to affect plants, animals, and people at a broad scale. Drought can occur when overall annual precipitation is less than normal. But it can also happen when precipitation doesn’t fall at the usual times of year, making it unavailable when it's most needed. Warm temperatures may cause rain to fall instead of snow, reducing snowpack that usually provides water later in the summer. Or growing human demand for water may be greater than the ability of the climate to provide it, even under historically normal climatic conditions. The Sonoran Desert Network monitors both climate and water resources. Because they are so closely intertwined, we report on their status and trends together.

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Last updated: September 8, 2022