Arid Tucson leads the way in water conservation out West

Schoolteacher Terry Anderson took a break in the shade of a mesquite tree in her front yard as a team of volunteers from a local nonprofit put the finishing touches on a morning’s work to help her capture water from the desert monsoon rains.

Together they dug basins and built up berms around the mesquite in a bid to capture about 1,000 gallons of rainwater. Behind the house, meanwhile, work was underway to fit a cistern to harvest 865 gallons from the roof to irrigate more shade trees in her parched backyard.

“There’s a lot of water that comes off my roof, and in this Sonoran desert, it’s pretty precious,” she said, looking out over the yard newly planted with native desert willow, Baja fairy duster and bird of paradise varieties. “Why have it run down the street instead of using it to put in a few more trees?”

Anderson is among a growing number of residents across Tucson joining a drive to conserve water that may hold valuable lessons for other cities across the drought-racked U.S. West.

The desert city, where barely 12 inches of rainwater falls in an average year, has succeeded in cutting per capita water consumption by about a third since the mid-1970s, and residents like Anderson are finding ever greater ways to pare their use as a culture of water conservation and harvesting takes root here.


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