GREEN LIVING: A shift in run-off thinking
Dave Perry/The Explorer, James MacAdam, outreach coordinator for Watershed Management Group, demonstrates the way rain water drains off Arizona's rugged terrain by pouring water over an upside-down muffin tin. He encourages property owners to flip the muffin tin, and catch some of the run-off in for beneficial use.

James MacAdam uses a six-cup aluminum muffin tin to illustrate the relationship between rainfall and Arizona’s rugged landscape.

MacAdam turns the tin upside down, its cups representing the state’s mountains. He tilts the tin, then pours water onto it.

All the water splashes into a catch basin, the way a monsoonal torrent might rush off hardpan desert.

MacAdam then flips the tin over, tilts and pours anew. Much of the water runs off. But some of it catches in the muffin cups.

“It’s slowing the water down long enough so it can do something beneficial,” such as grow plants, MacAdam said. “That’s the main consciousness shift that’s required.”

MacAdam, the watershed outreach coordinator for the non-profit Watershed Management Group Inc., shared his simple message with more than two dozen participants at a rainwater-harvesting workshop Saturday at the Oro Valley Library. He’s urging people to create basins, water bars, berms, cisterns and other structures on their properties that can capture and slow storm water runoff, irrigate the landscape and add value to property.

Saturday’s turnout, and capacity crowds at a series of earlier workshops, indicate to MacAdam the consciousness shift is in fact occurring.

“This is not mainstream yet,” MacAdam said. “Part of it is just changing the thinking. People need to start to see other things and get different ideas.”

To demonstrate the possibilities, MacAdam is administering a program in Tucson’s Rincon Heights neighborhood, retrofitting the community one block at a time to use “best management practices” for passive capture and distribution of storm water.

“In Tucson, there’s very little storm water infrastructure,” MacAdam said. “Everything flows down the streets.”

The lack of catchments is “ubiquitous,” MacAdam said. Outside the Oro Valley Library, MacAdam showed places where parking lot run-off is not utilized, where gravel and water slough off slopes, and where trees grow at different paces because they do not have uniform access to roof run-off.

MacAdam understands the “weird dichotomy” regarding storm water run-off that prompts many developers to create large retention basins at the bottom of a property. He’d prefer to see retention spread across a piece of ground.

“It’s shocking that it’s not happening, and yet that’s the state of the world,” MacAdam said.

‘Start small’ on your capture of storm run-off

James MacAdam encourages homeowners to “start small” when they try to capture storm water run-off.

“If you see a place where the water runs off of your roof … start by digging a single basin” at that spot, plant “a single tree or shrub, and see how that goes,” said MacAdam, watershed outreach coordinator for the non-profit Watershed Management Group Inc. “You get excited from the success, and motivated enough to keep doing it.”

He has several cautions. “Prepare for overflow,” and be sure water can be moved “where you want it to go. And make sure your soil is permeable enough.

“Don’t get overwhelmed,” and take on too much, MacAdam said. “Don’t make costly mistakes.”

Rainwater capture gives people “a reason to go outside,” and it adds “a layer of excitement” to the already-tantalizing monsoon season.

“Not everyone’s going to be a water nerd,” MacAdam said. “Maybe they want a fruit tree, and they dig a little swale. You can turn problems into assets.”

About Watershed Management Group

Watershed Management Group tries to “improve rural and urban livelihoods by integrating community development and conservation,” its mission statement reads.

“We provide local residents and community groups with the knowledge and skills necessary to sustainably manage their natural resources.”

Few groups are “getting as much done with as little money as we are,” said watershed outreach coordinator James MacAdam.

Box 65953, Tucson, 85728. 396-3266

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