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A Desert City Tries to Save Itself With Rain

Tucson, Arizona, is giving residents financial incentives to harvest their rainwater as the desert city works to become carbon neutral by 2030.

Brad Lancaster, a water harvesting activist, fills a cup with filtered rainwater collected from his roof.

Brad Lancaster, a water harvesting activist, fills a cup with filtered rainwater collected from his roof.

Photographer: Chris Malloy/Bloomberg

In an average year, Brad Lancaster can harvest enough rain to meet 95% of his water needs. Roof runoff collected in tanks on his modest lot in Tucson, Arizona — where 100 degree days are common in the summer months — provides what he needs to bathe, cook and drink.

When Lancaster gets thirsty, he sips filtered rain “known as sweet water,” he says, having never picked up salt from soil. When he wants a hot shower, he places his outdoor shower’s water tank in the sun. To irrigate his fruit trees beyond the Sonoran Desert’s two rainy seasons, which bring the vast majority of Tucson’s precipitation, he uses fresh rainwater or greywater — the latter being, in his case, used rainwater leftover from the shower, sink, or washing machine.