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New research finds rainwater harvesting could be solution to Tucson food deserts

Rain in the Valley, March 10, 2020
Posted at 5:00 AM, Feb 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 10:07:06-05

TUCSON, AZ — Data shows nearly 94,000 Tucson residents live in a food desert; those are low-income neighborhoods where the closest grocery store is at least a mile away.

Researchers with the University of Arizona and Arizona State University say rainwater harvesting may be the answer to eliminating them.

According to Assistant Professor of Architecture at UArizona Courtney Crosson, there are over 700 acres of public, unused land in Tucson's food deserts.

If that land could be converted to neighborhood farms, she says the possibilities are endless. However, all of that farmland would require a lot of water.

“We don’t want to create these huge new urban users, like farms across the city," Crosson said. "We want to use water that’s not going to be diminishing our aquifers or even imported water. We want to use water like rainwater that exists here."

While rain isn't something Arizonans are used to, Crosson says her team found that enough rain falls in Tucson, even in a dry year, to irrigate these farms. She says there would just need to be a system in place to collect it, like on rooftops for example.

“Disproving that myth that we weren’t able to address our food deserts because we didn’t get as much rainfall as other places," Crosson said. "So now that that’s known, I think we can go forward with these efforts with a lot more confidence."

Crosson says starting in the fall semester, her students will use this research to create their own designs showing what these urban farms throughout the city could look like. As for when they could actually be built, Crosson says they haven't gotten that far yet. But she says putting these designs into action is a possibility and it's a solution other cities across the state could adopt.

“I think this is something that definitely could be realized in Phoenix as well, quite easily," Crosson said.