Town Urges Rainwater Harvesting

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Payson's water quality specialist says the average Rim country resident can double the amount of rainwater that percolates into the ground through rainwater harvesting -- and she's helping develop a program that encourages residents to do just that.

But rainwater harvesting is more than just a way to conserve water at a time when much of the West is suffering from a severe drought. It also improves water quality, according to Karen Probert, town water quality specialist.

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"The whole idea of rainwater harvesting is to slow the flow of the rainwater to get it back into the ground to help water vegetation and recharge our aquifers instead of allowing it to run off properties and out of town," said Karen Probert, town water quality specialist.

"The whole idea of rainwater harvesting is to slow the flow of the rainwater to get it back into the ground to help water vegetation and recharge our aquifers instead of allowing it to run off properties and out of town," Probert said. "But by getting it back into the ground, the water is not coming in contact with chemicals and other contaminants that are out there in places liked paved areas."

The first thing most people think of in connection with rainwater harvesting is a system of gutters and barrels, but there are other things that homeowners can do to salvage the water that falls on their properties.

"Some people don't like the looks of the receptacles and don't have space for them," Probert said. "That's OK, because you can do things out in the yard that can accomplish the same purpose."

Probert is creating a brochure that tells residents how to harvest rainwater through such techniques as berms and rock-lined basins that slow the flow of water on property and get it into the ground.

She recently traveled to Tucson to check out a home with a beautifully landscaped yard where groundwater harvesting techniques have proven extremely effective.

"They have a small lot, 70 by 100 feet, which you wouldn't think would have much potential for rainwater harvesting," she said. "But just by using simple techniques and putting some different structures in their yard -- and it's a beautiful yard -- they're able to capture 1.5 inches of rainfall off their roof, which equates to about 6,000 gallons, before any water runs off their property. That's a huge quantity of water."

People who want to see some of the rainwater harvesting techniques for themselves can visit the xeriscape demonstration garden in the courtyard of Gila Community College at Highway 260 and Mudsprings Road.

"It isn't evident at first that we've incorporated rainwater harvesting throughout that whole garden, but take a closer look and you'll see a number of basins and swales and berms that were designed to direct water from the downspouts off the metal roof through as much of that garden as possible so it can percolate in and water those native plants that are demonstrated there. We also have a barrel there to catch rainwater."

Contrary to what many people believe, it is not illegal to impede the flow of water on private property, according to Probert. In fact, she said, Salt River Project, which owns the surface water rights to a 13,000-square-mile watershed that includes the Rim country and the entire Tonto National Forest, actually approves of the practice.

"I've talked to a representative of SRP, and they said they actually would encourage people to do that, and that there's no legal problem as long as it's on their own property," she said. "If you would create some type of structure, like some kind of dam or reservoir that would hold the water back, that's not allowed. But if people are using rainwater in the ways I'm talking about, that's a legal process."

Rainwater harvesting is especially critical while the Rim country is suffering through a drought.

"Some climate studies going on right now indicate this drought is prolonged and severe," Probert said. "We may get some relief from these periodic rain events, and that's another reason rainwater harvesting is so important, because if people are prepared they can collect it and make the best use of it."

Probert hopes the town's new rainwater harvesting brochure will be available by the end of the year. In the meantime the town water department stocks a free publication that was produced by the city of Albuquerque on the subject.

Probert says Rim country residents can also call her at (928) 474-5242, ext. 2235 with any questions.

Graywater

Probert reminds Rim country residents that another effective way to conserve water is to re-use graywater.

"ADEQ (Arizona Department of Environmental Quality) allows people to use graywater without a permit as long as it's not more than 400 gallons a day," she said. The water department has a free brochure detailing the safe use of graywater in landscaping.

Water quality

ADEQ requires the town of Payson and all municipal and private water companies to test their water and issue a water quality report to customers by July 1 of each year. To report a water company that doesn't provide such reports or suspected contamination or other violations, contact ADEQ at 1-800-235-5677.

Private wells

Probert urges owners of private wells to have them tested on an annual basis.

"There are a couple of inexpensive tests that should be done on an annual basis, especially if you have a private well and a septic system," she said. Contact Probert at the number above with questions or for the names of qualified water-testing companies.

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