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Environment-friendly landscaping is focus of upcoming tour

Environment-friendly landscaping is focus of upcoming tour

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If climate change is one of your concerns and saving the planet is one of your goals, the Watershed Management Group, or WMG, and the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club have organized a tour that you won’t want to miss: The 8th Annual Homescape Harvest Tour will highlight 14 local residential and schoolyard landscapes from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19.

“We are at the forefront of developing strategies people can use at their own homes to lessen their impact on the environment and we have a great culture of that in Tucson. The Homescape Harvest Tour is a great entry point for more people to get involved and to learn more about the culture of conservation, whether it is through energy or water,” said Harold Thomas, associate director of WMG.

The grassroots nonprofit is dedicated to developing community-based solutions to ensure the long-term prosperity of people and health of the environment; it accomplishes that by providing the public with knowledge, skills and resources for sustainable livelihoods.

A cornerstone of WMG’s vision for environmental health includes a 50-year plan to restart the flow of the Santa Cruz and Rillito Rivers and Tucson’s five other desert waterways by connecting the public to the watershed, Thomas said. The organization views healthy rivers as the “ultimate green infrastructure,” with the ability to provide wide-scale cooling and a sustainable future water supply that is essential to maintaining the Sonoran Desert habitat.

“It is really possible to get the rivers flowing, but it will take everyone deciding that we want our homes, schools and businesses to incorporate rainwater harvesting to improve and enhance our local rivers. It is a change of mindset. We need to look at how our streets become part of our river systems and support surface flows and how our homes and schools and yard designs can help to recharge the water supply through rainwater harvesting and water conservation,” Thomas said.

That mindset is illustrated by the Homescape Harvest Tour, which showcases a diverse range of sustainable features, including active and passive solar systems; water harvesting through rain tanks, rain gardens and earthworks; composting toilets and food gardens; native plants and urban wildlife habitats; and much more.

The majority of residences featured on the tour are participants in the WMG Green Living Co-op, which provides sustainability workshops and classes through which participants can join with other homeowners and volunteers to bank hours as they complete projects under the supervision of a project manager with technical expertise.

“We call it barn-raising, Sonoran Style. Instead of raising a barn, we install a rainwater harvesting tank and build earthworks systems. It is a model that allows residents to have the work done affordably, since lots of the labor is done through volunteer work,” Thomas said.

The model proved wonderfully successful for Carol Rose, whose Barrio Hollywood home and yard is featured on the upcoming tour. After she contributed time and effort to several projects herself, volunteers came to her home in 2016. They installed two large rainwater cisterns, dug basins to capture rainwater and helped replace grass and weeds with native trees, plants and mulch.

Rose and her husband, Duane Ediger, also utilize grey water from their laundry for established citrus trees, a favorite apricot tree and other newly-planted native trees that provide shade for their chickens. In 2017, they added solar photovoltaic generation with battery storage to their home to power electric appliances and a car; this produces more energy on an annual basis than the couple uses. Though they use no natural gas themselves, Rose Ediger said that they remain on the grid so the excess energy they produce can be used by others.

“We live in Arizona and we need to make use of the energy that is falling everywhere around us,” she said. “Duane always says that the payback is with the planet, not just in our pocketbooks.”

That philosophy is shared by David Stevenson, whose 1970s home just west of Interstate 10 will also be featured on the tour.

Stevenson’s residence will showcase solar power and an outdoor compost toilet that reduces water use while creating compost for plants. It will also highlight a system featuring two rainwater cisterns (storage for 5,000 gallons of water); earthworks with berms and basins; a pump; and a pressure tank, filtration and purification systems that operate similarly to a house with a well. The system enables Stevenson and his partner to live solely on rainwater for 10 to 11 months of the year.

“We are cooking with, showering in and drinking rainwater. When you turn on the water at our home, the water that comes from the tap is rainwater that fell on our roof, went into the cistern and has been pumped and purified. We want to show people you can live on rainwater, grow food with rainwater and have a vibrant desert landscape with nothing but rainwater,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson is also excited to display the solar power at his home and promote awareness about the tie-ins between solar power and water conservation.

“The traditional generation of electricity by electric utilities is mostly through burning coal and natural gas. That generation process is water-consumptive, so when I generate my own electricity with solar power, electric utilities don’t have to use water to generate my electricity. That is a big savings,” said Stevenson, a co-owner of Technicians for Sustainability, which specializes in renewable energy and sustainable technologies.

Overall, Stevenson thinks it is vital for every individual to help combat climate change. He believes that, collectively, even small changes can make a big difference.

“Sometimes people get overwhelmed by the thought that global warming will kill us all. If each of us just takes one or two steps — it may be something very small like digging basins by hand or installing a little solar or putting a small rain barrel in your yard — and then a few of our friends see what we are doing and try it and then a few of their friends do it, the world gets better in a hurry,” he said.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net

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