Saving Arizona: Rancher solves water problems with old technique - Tucson News Now

Saving Arizona: Rancher solves water problems with old technique

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

There's no question we have a major water problem in Southern Arizona; We see destructive floods during the monsoons and not enough water during the rest of the year. 

Tucson News Now went to a ranch deep in the Chiricahua Mountains and saw a man who's using nature to help solve the water problems.

67-year-old Jho Austin has run this ranch with his wife for 31 years. His ranch in the town of Pearce shows a simple, but successful way to bring the land back to life. They use rocks to help control water, and ultimately turn brown areas into green areas.

"It's a process that's been used for thousands of years," he said. "The Egyptians made papyrus baskets. The Indians did this. Ancient civilizations have done this for years."

The process doesn't have a fancy name nor a big price tag. Rocks are piled in areas where the water runs when it rains, and the loose rock structures slow down the water and allow it to sink in a bit before it moves on.

Eventually, areas that were rock or gravel become full of vegetation. Austin showed us a particular part of his ranch, and said the area used to flood a few times a year and then it would dry up.

"It had water in it maybe 20 percent of the time, Austin said. "We started putting these loose rock structures in here, and it's gone from being water in it 20 percent of the time to water in it 80 percent of the time." 

Austin says there are about 20,000 structures on the ranch. Most of the structures are rocks piled on top of each other and some are rocks that are kept stable by wire baskets. 

The Austins now work with loose rock structures on eight separate properties in southwest Arizona and Mexico. They showed us before and after pictures of some of the areas, and it's amazing to see  the difference in color and vegetation. They offer to teach their method to whomever's interested, but realize the secret is not out.

"One of the problems is it's not very sexy," Austin said. "It's low-tech. It's not a big huge dam. You don't need a lot of engineers. You don't need lots of equipment."

He adds that just about every homeowner can spring into action and do their part, even in the city of Tucson. Austin promotes using loose rock structures.

"[It] would certainly help if you have any erosion problems on your two acres, or your one acre, or your quarter acre. If you have flooding problems, it could help your flooding problems. Over a longer period of time it could help the water problem."

Austin remains hopeful more people will take matters into their own hands.

"When you explain this to people, they look at this like it's too much work. Just sitting on your tail doesn't slow the water down."

For more information on the Cuenca los Ojos Foundation, visit the website here:

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