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Valley couple fighting drought with rainwater harvesting

Posted at 6:46 PM, Aug 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-08 21:46:49-04

PHOENIX — On a hot, dry summer day it's difficult to grasp just how much rain can fall in a short period of time in the Arizona desert.

Jackie Rich and Brock Tunnicliff of central Phoenix however know firsthand since they've spent a lot of time capturing the rainwater that their home gutters can't.

"One particularly wet winter, I put out buckets," Rich told ABC15.

Those buckets turned into two dozen trashcans filled with rainwater.

"And it looked a little like, I don't know, maybe a hazardous waste disposal site," she said. "We decided that we needed to do something different."

Environmental managers by trade, the husband and wife got to work looking for a more sustainable way to keep the water.

"Jackie was working with the extension service from (University of Arizona) and had heard about some water harvesting programs," Tunnicliff said. "And we went to a lecture given by experts from Tucson here in Phoenix and got some ideas."

With the help of friends, they built a 9,000-gallon cistern to store the excess rainwater.

"We had a backhoe that came in and dug a 20 by 20 foot by five-foot-deep hole," Tunnicliff said. "You line it with a pond liner, and then you fill it with a lot of irrigation tubes."

PVC pipes outside their house direct excess water to the storage tank that is completely underground, and covered with dirt.

"And we park right on top," Rich said.

There's also a water treatment system in their garage to clean the water if needed.

All told it cost them about $12,000 to complete the project 10 years ago.

It is the only water they use for landscaping Rich says the system has paid for itself in a drastic reduction in municipal water usage.

"We pay the minimum amount that you can pay to keep the account open," Rich said.

They say it can be done smaller and cheaper with an above-ground system, and now there may soon be funds available to Arizonans who want to do something similar.

Earlier this year Rich testified at the state legislature about their experiences with rainwater harvesting at the urging of State Representative Sarah Ligouri (D - Phoenix).

Since then the state set aside $200 million for conservation projects for homeowners as part of the billion-dollar water augmentation legislation.

But for Rich and Tunnicliff it's more than an investment, it's their way of conserving what's left of Arizona's finite water resources.

"Take a look at Lake Mead, take a look at Lake Powell," Tunnicliff said. "Arizona is truly a desert. And this is a desert city. And it was exciting to us. It reduced out dependency on other water supplies."

"When it rains it's such a joyful experience," Rich said. "And to capture the rainwater, and then to be able to continue to use it, it's kind of like prolonging the joy."