Phoenix-Area Residents Harvest Water To Hydrate Landscapes

By Jimmy Jenkins
Published: Friday, January 15, 2016 - 5:08pm
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(Photo by Jimmy Jenkins - KJZZ)
Louis Powell and Frances Peake use harvested rainwater and gray water to cultivate a backyard oasis at their home in Central Phoenix.

You wouldn’t know it by the sound or look, but the home of Frances Peake and Louis Powell is in the middle of the desert.

Their central Phoenix home is alive with fountains, animals and lush vegetation. But it wasn’t always that way. When the brother and sister first moved to the home, it was like many in the Valley – not much greenery and no wildlife to speak of.

"It was a different world," Peake said. "Since we’ve been here and planted trees - now when you walk around our yard, you do see all kinds of wildlife. You see lizards that you don’t see otherwise and you see birds. We have dragon flies, which I hadn’t ever seen before."

Peake is a master gardener who knows how to grow things in the low desert.

"A lot of people are under the impression that they can’t grow anything because its the desert, and that’s totally untrue," Peake said. "In fact, we have an even better growing season than anybody else because we can grow things in spring and fall."

Their backyard is a testament to what’s possible. There’s shade trees, vines, lots of ground cover and flowers that attract insects and hummingbirds.

But, of course, all life needs water to survive. Instead of relying on an irrigation system, Peake and Powell learned how to harvest their own water by taking classes with the Watershed Management Program.

Powell pointed out one of their first projects – a simple technique to control the flow of water in the yard.

"We shaped shallow basins to retain the water and water the plants," Powell said. "After everything was planted, we put down the mulch over the top which helps with weed suppression and helps maintain your moisture."

The next step was installing rain barrels to catch run off from the roof.

"In a good rain like we had last night, there's a waterfall coming off the roof right here," he says. "You put a barrel there. It fills up fast."

In fact, if one inch of rain falls on a one thousand square-foot roof, there's the potential to harvest almost 600 gallons of rainwater.

Peake and Powell also recycle the water from their washing machine to sustain a healthy orchard of peach, apple, apricot and orange trees.

"The laundry water comes out, and we have this valve box," Powell said referring to a small box in the back yard. "If I open this valve, it will water this basin with the fruit trees in it."

The laundry water project was a little more complex, but Watershed Management Group program coordinator Lindsay Ignatowski said there are even more opportunities around the house for water harvesting.

"You could do an outdoor shower that you use to bathe outside and send that water straight to your landscape," Ignatowski said. "You could also set up a composting toilet."

While that may be outside the comfort zone for some, Ignatowski said water harvesting is a fulfilling way to garden and to live.

"You know you look at this and you think 'This is a little bit different lifestyle'" she said. "But then when you see it and you think – 'Yeah I could see myself living that way.' It’s a way of life that’s really in harmony with our environment."

The Watershed Management Group’s water harvesting classes are taking place in Tempe next week.

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