Originally Published: July 7, 2017 6:01 a.m.
Throughout the dry months of May and June, Fred Oswald counted on the seven water barrels in his yard to keep his flowering shrubs and vegetable garden green and leafy.
Oswald, a retired engineer living in northeast Prescott, has gradually added rain barrels as a means of conserving on the water needed to irrigate his desert plants and small raised garden plot.
This year, the barrels, which are strategically placed throughout Oswald’s backyard and side yard, filled up with roof runoff water by about February. “We used up the last of the rainwater on Monday,” Oswald said Thursday, July 6.
Oswald is among the small number of Prescott residents who have applied for a rebate through the City of Prescott for installation of a rainwater harvesting system.
The City of Prescott has offered the rebate since 2009, and in 2016, increased the amount from $0.10 per gallon of capacity to $0.50 per gallon.
Still, Prescott Water Resources Manager Leslie Graser told the city’s Water Issues Committee this week that just 52 rainwater-harvesting rebates have been paid to water customers over the past eight years.
“Participation by existing city water customers in the rainwater harvesting conservation rebate program (and hence conservation savings, if any) has been minimal to date (not more than 10 rebates in any one year, as compared to 21,300 residential water customers),” stated a city memo on the topic.
The Prescott Water Issues Committee, which is made up of Mayor Pro Tem Jim Lamerson and City Councilmen Steve Blair and Steve Sischka, considered the program’s low use during a meeting on Wednesday, July 5.
“We’ve had it since 2009, and only 52 people have taken advantage of it?” asked Sischka, adding that the number disappoints him.
Blair noted that rainwater harvesting can bring savings that go well beyond the rebate amount. For the past 10 years, he has used a 1,200-gallon underground tank to augment the water for his own landscaping and vegetable garden.
“When my tank is full, I can go without (irrigating from the city’s water system),” Blair said. “When the tank runs out of water, there is a $100 difference in my water bill.” Over the past decade, he says, “It’s paid for itself over and over and over again.”
After the meeting, Leslie Hoy of the Citizens Water Advocacy Group (CWAG) said one of the issues with the rainwater harvesting rebate is that homeowners simply don’t know it is available.
And, she guesses that plenty of homeowners have installed the systems without bothering with the rebate.
Indeed, Oswald said he did not initially seek a rebate because he thought the $0.10-per-gallon amount was probably not worth the required paperwork.
The Water Issues Committee also touched on whether the amount conserved by using stored rainwater would make an actual difference in the city’s overall water use.
For instance, the memo pointed out that having a rainwater-harvesting system might encourage homeowners to plant more landscaping in their yards. Then, “In years of drought, if the rainwater harvesting storage/replenishment is insufficient to properly sustain the landscaping, it is conceivable that an increase in potable water could actually result,” the memo added.
Local resident George Sheats maintains that in order for the program to result in actual water savings, the rainwater harvesting systems likely need to go beyond the 40- to 65-gallon barrels that some homeowners opt for.
Sheats, who recently participated on behalf of CWAG in meetings about plans for rainwater-harvesting systems in Dorn Homes’ new Antelope Crossing subdivision, suggests tanks that hold considerably more.
“If the intent of the city is to reduce water allocations,” Sheats says, the rainwater harvesting capacity should total about 500 to 1,000 gallons.
Also – noting that homeowners-association rules sometimes rule out water barrels – Sheats said larger “slim-line” tanks that run unobtrusively along the side of the house are available.
The Water Issues Committee agreed to forward the matter to the full City Council for a study-session discussion at a future meeting.