Tucson AZ Rainwater Harvesting Rebates

Since 2012, the City of Tucson, Arizona has provided over $2 million in rebates for the Rainwater Harvesting Rebates Program, which allows the city’s water utility, Tucson Water, to subsidize the installation of rainwater catchment systems on residential properties throughout the City. The installations increase tree canopy cover, which helps to more effectively manage rainwater resources throughout the year. To increase project participation within low-income neighborhoods, the program provides grants and loans. These systems work to significantly reduce potable water use, push residents to move beyond sustainable practices and towards regenerative practices, and enhance the quality of life by extending the amount of tree canopy across Tucson. 

Rainwater harvesting is the process of capturing, storing, and using rainwater for irrigation or other uses. Rainwater harvesting systems can reduce the dependency on drinking water to irrigate landscapes at a low cost and reduce on-site flooding, erosion, and pollutant discharges following storm surges. The process of harvesting water relies on three major components: the supply (rainfall), the demand (the number of water plants required), and the Water Collection and Distribution System which moves water to plants. Simple Systems directly bring water to planted areas, while Complex Systems can store harvested rainwater for later use. Integrating rainwater harvesting systems are most efficient when paired with the planting of native and desert-adapted plants. It is important to note that rainwater harvesting is not a fully dependable source of irrigation water for plants, as the amount of rain can vary over time. The benefits of rainwater harvesting can be amplified with the use of Complex Systems which can store the water for later uses. 

The amount of tree canopy varies widely between wealthier and poorer neighborhoods. When Tuscon officials have mapped this disparity, they found expansive tree canopy in the northern and eastern regions of the city, but little to no shade in the south of the city. These regions correspond to where the wealthier residents live and where Tucson’s low-income and minority residents reside, respectively. The southern regions of Tucson can be up to 5 degrees hotter than the northern regions, and this discrepancy is expected to increase as global temperatures rise with climate change.

When Tucson began the Rainwater Harvesting Rebates Program in 2012, many of the lower-income communities did not engage with the program. The majority of the rebates were distributed throughout northern Tucson, as several barriers limited equitable access to the program’s resources. Many low-income residents either were unaware of the existence of the program, or were not able to afford the upfront costs associated with the installation of water catchment systems. Additionally, the beginning stages of the program did not include promotional materials or workshops in Spanish, which also limited awareness of the program. The structure of the application process also posed barriers for communities with fewer resources. In order to qualify, residents had to develop a project plan and fill out an extensive application. This process is typically difficult for residents who have two to three jobs. Additionally, communities without neighborhood associations - which is typical on the southern side of the city - often lack the resources or knowledge required to fill out these forms. 

To counter these barriers, the city has increased the amount of funding going to the Sonora Environmental Research Institute, which is a nonprofit that distributes rainwater systems to low-income and Spanish-speaking residents through zero-interest loans and grants. Since the addition of Sonora’s work, 6 percent of the total amount of systems subsidized by the city are now in low-income neighborhoods. 

The program offers two levels of rebates, which are dependent on whether the resident installs a simple or passive system. Level 1 rebates incentivize the installation of simple system rain gardens through covering 50% of the material cost and subsidizing up to $500 in associated labor costs. Level 2 offers a rebate up to $2,000 for the installation of a complex system rain tank. Rebates under this level depend on the gallon capacity of the cistern installed. 50-799 gallon cisterns are subsidized at $0.25 per gallon, while 800+ gallon cisterns receive $1.00 per gallon. The subsidies are available upon application for single-family residential and small commercial customers. Applicants must attend a three-hour workshop to learn best methods for installing systems and the requirements of the program, and can also receive assistance to create a project plan for their site. Residents must be Tucson Water customers to be eligible for the program. 

The Rainwater Harvesting Rebates Program has made the residents of Tucson more conscious of the amount of water it takes to irrigate landscape and has reduced the amount of potable water used annually by an average of 748 gallons per month. 

 

Publication Date: September 2013

Related Organizations:

  • City of Tucson, Arizona
  • Tuscon Water

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  • Communication
  • Education/training materials
  • Engagement
  • Funding program

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