Budget Breakdown of Lanscaping for Rainwater Collection
My Name is Kyle Arthur and I'm a photographer and teacher at Tucson High School. My discovery of Feldman’s began four years ago when I was living in a 2200 Sqft house and found myself cleaning a room that I hadn’t set foot in since the previous time I had cleaned it a couple weeks earlier. The hours of upkeep and cost of maintaining and living in such a large house turned my home into a burden so I sold it in an effort to find a way to live smaller and more efficiently. I told my realtor to find me the smallest home possible that was no more than a 10 minute bike commute to work, and I was fortunate to find a 670 sq ft Historic home in Feldman that met all of my needs. I was not previously familiar with the neighborhood, but quickly fell in love with the classic Tucson homes, the tree lined streets, my neighbors, my utility bills, and the fact that I could make the house spotless within an hour. I now share the home with my partner, our son, and Sammy who is half golden retriever/ half wiener dog: a marvel of modern science.
Photograph of the nearly completed project. Only thing to do is get the curb cut before monsoons! Photographs courtesy of Kyle
What made you first start thinking about rainwater harvesting?
The previous owner had installed a large water harvesting tank that they would use to water the exterior and interior plants with by hand. When it is completely full, the excess water drains to a basin in the front yard and waters a large palo verde tree. I thought that was brilliant and it was really my first experience with rain harvesting. Soon after I moved in, I installed an irrigation system to bring that water to the plants and trees in the yard so that I didn’t have to spend time watering them by hand. This was an incredibly simple project that took me 15 minutes on YouTube, a full day of work, and less than $100 worth of material. Since then I have replaced the majority of my exterior plants with native plant species that don't rely on irrigation. That was just about three years ago but it wasn’t until very recent that I learned about or considered passive rain harvesting.
Why did you choose to make basins in your right-of-way with curb cuts when that isn’t technically your property?
My journey into passive water harvesting happened largely on accident and evolved over time. The front of my property was lined with large rocks as a boundary, and I wanted to get rid of the large rocks in order to replace them with a steel fence. The water basins started as a solution to my need to get rid of 47 large rocks and not knowing what to do with them.
Prior to this project, I had never even thought about the right-of-way area as my yard, in fact I just thought of it as an ugly area on the other side of the sidewalk that made my yard look bad. Looking up and down my street I realized that some neighbor's Right-of-way looked incredible, and that others (like mine) were making the neighborhood look worse. Some had great big beautiful shade trees, and others (like mine) had great big ugly weeds. It took a quick google search on my phone to learn that the Right-of-way is land that is owned by the city, but the resident is responsible for maintaining. At first this seemed like a pretty raw deal, but I was excited for the opportunity to give a makeover to the first thing my neighbors see when they look at my home and I was excited to have found a place to put all of these rocks.
Image above is of the original landscape as it was when Kyle moved into Feldman's about three years ago.
What kind of planning and preparation did you spend to make this a reality?
I started by spending a couple hours staring at the ground in my front yard. I knew I was going to have to move quite a bit of the soil from the right of way into my yard in order to get nearly 50 large rocks into the ground and form a basin to collect rain water, so I made a plan for how I could make sure that water was flowing away from my house to avoid damage to the foundation, but was staying in my yard where it could be absorbed and water my plants and not run off into the street. I tried to imagine the water running off my roof and I began to plan out which parts of the yard needed to be built up higher and which parts needed to be dug deeper. I sketched a “topographical map” of my property and, with just a shovel and a wheelbarrow, started moving dirt around. Using the shovel, I started by drawing an outline of an organic shape in the dirt, and then just started digging. It helped to have a bit of a game plan, but the design changed and evolved as the project moved along and ideas formed, changed, reformed, and solidified as I worked. I really just had fun with it and adapted the design and plan to what felt right and looked good along the way.
Above is an initial map Kyle drew to better understand and plan around water flow.
Where did you look for information and where for inspiration?
The day after I had started digging, I was riding my bike to work and saw that someone near my house was also digging water basins in their right-of-way and had rocks and different planting tiers in theirs as well. I stopped to admire their work and to compare notes and noticed that their design was a little strange in that the basin was dug right up to the street curb in a small section of maybe a foot or two wide. I thought it was strange but as soon as I started riding my bike again, it totally hit me. I realized that they were going to cut the curb and “steal” the street water. It blew me away. I was embarrassingly excited about it. On my break at work I blindly started researching how I can cut my curb to harvest the rain water and I found Brad Lancaster’s website https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/ and videos about watershed and water harvesting. I also found on his website that once I have the work completed, the city has a program that reimburses homeowners for the work. I read everything I could find about curb-cuts and passive rainwater harvesting, then after work I rode up and down every street in my neighborhood on the way home finding and photographing curb cuts and water harvesting basins. They are all over the place and I had never noticed them before. When I got back home, I easily modified the basins I had already dug in order to cut my curb and collect free rain water.
(In progress photograph) Kyle built an inflow modeled after another neighborhood house so that once the curb is cut he can direct street water to his landscape
Why did you choose to do all the work yourself?
I initially chose to do it myself in an effort to keep costs low. You get more bang for your buck if you can do it yourself. Beyond that, working on enhancing and improving my front yard was rewarding in that it gave me a feeling that I was giving back to our incredible historic neighborhood and improving it in my own way. I liked that I had complete control over the project and that I could make changes as necessary without relying on the influence of anyone else. This was really an empowering experience and gave me a sense of ownership over the project. I have little to no experience with landscaping but found that there are endless resources online that gave me the confidence to tackle the project.
I’m aware that not everyone is going to be able do the labor themselves, but I was surprised at how easy it was once I actually started working. My suggestion is that you wait until the day after a heavy rain. Stand outside and watch how the rainwater moves around your property and start digging once the skies clear up. The ground will be nice and soft and easy to dig.
One of the coolest things about this project was the fact that I didn’t do all the work myself, and I ended up getting so much help from my neighbors. My partner and my son did some digging. My neighbor and her 5 year old spent some hours spreading around gravel, and I got to know my neighbor across the street as he helped me to finish up the project. Especially in this unusual time, it was incredible to see strangers reach out to help and quickly become friends.
Is there anything you wish you had known going into the project? What would “now you" say to "starting out you"?
Don’t over plan it. Spend some time understanding how water moves around your property and then just get to work. It isn’t rocket science and you don’t need experience in order to make it happen on your own. Reach out to your neighbors and your friends and steal the rain to make some giant shade trees in front of your house.
You’re going to get obsessed. I realized that there is only so much passive rain water harvesting basin talk your girlfriend is going to be able to take. Get to know the people at your local nursery because they are as obsessed as you. Ride your bike around Feldman’s neighborhood and Dunbar Springs to draw inspiration and then make it happen.
What are some issues you resolved along the way you are really proud of?
Once I spent some time researching and finding ways to make the most of the right-of-way area in front of my house, I really realized how much I could be doing to maximize all of the outdoor space I have. Since this project, I have dug deep into the idea of permaculture and how I can maximize the small amount of space I have. I am now incredibly proud of my Native water tolerant plants, my native edible garden and fruit trees, my chickens that are providing food for my family, and the landscape design that will soon provide shade, food, and a sustainable environment for us to enjoy.
With native landscape and basins, Kyle will not need any supplemental water for his landscape.
Could you provide a bit of a budget breakdown? How much did you spend? How much will you be reimbursed? What do you think your total out of pocket will be?
I bought a shovel from Lowes for $16 and a wheelbarrow for $54
I was able to existing rocks from the yard.
In the basins, I salvaged other plants from my yard and grew plants from seeds that I gathered from around the neighborhood. In the rest of the yard I purchased seeds from spadefoot nursery who are some incredible and brilliant people who specialize in local and native plants. They are incredibly helpful and willing to share their knowledge. Most small plants are $8 and larger plants can be around $30
13 tons 1” Coronado Brown from D&D material. This place is a few miles away but I had a great experience with them.
Curb Cuts- ?
These have yet to be cut. To be reimbursed for 50% of applicable passive rainwater harvesting expenses it would need to be with a licensed contractor. Estimtes for that are around $300 or a little less for curb cores.
Detail of in process.