AZT Rainwater Collector

On August 30-31, a dedicated crew of eight Arizona Trail Association volunteers joined Assistant Trail Director Zach MacDonald to venture into a particularly remote segment of the Arizona Trail to install an AZT Rainwater Collector. This unit is the first of its kind and was designed by the Arizona Trail Association and metalsmith extraordinaire Rob Bauer in consultation with sustainability professionals, land managers and engineers. It features a steel apron that catches rainwater and stores the precious resource within a 1,500-gallon tank that is protected on all sides by steel panels. A spigot with an automatic shutoff valve allows trail users to fill and filter their bottles along this very dry and exposed segment of the Arizona Trail. Once the tank is full, an overflow pipe fills a steel water trough nearby for the benefit of wildlife. The entire unit is fenced to keep livestock out, and posted signs inform trail users that the water must be filtered before consumption.

The AZT Rainwater Collector is located halfway between reliable water sources at the Gila River and a windmill near Picketpost Trailhead. This particular 21-mile segment has repeatedly proven to be daunting for many hikers, runners, and mountain bikers. Covering the distance without any shade or water is prohibitive for equestrians whose animals require 5-7 gallons of fresh water per day. This passage has been the site of many Search and Rescue operations when trail users get into trouble from dehydration and heat exhaustion.

Arizona’s weather patterns in this region will likely fill the collector during summer monsoons for trail users to tap into during the busy autumn trail season. The pattern will be repeated with winter moisture refilling the tank for the spring season.

Water quality will be studied over a period of one year by Project Harvest at the University of Arizona, and results will be shared on the ATA website. Since rainwater is essentially distilled and the unit features a three-stage screen system, it’s unlikely any natural contaminants will find their way into the storage tank. The water never receives direct sunlight, so algae will not grow. Unlike most tanks, streams, ponds and other sources along the Arizona Trail, cattle will have no opportunity to contaminate the water. However, the rainwater—and every water source along the AZT—should always be filtered through mechanical, chemical, ultraviolet, boiling or other filtration methods before drinking.

The AZT Rainwater Collector was funded by a Restoration and Resilience Grant from the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) and the Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Foundation, as well as ATA members and donors. After studying this pilot project for one year, the ATA will consider fabricating and installation other Rainwater Collectors along the driest segments of the AZT.

The ATA shares our tremendous gratitude to the crew who helped install the rainwater collector in very challenging conditions; the Tonto National Forest for approving this project; and Rob Bauer for his expertise, creativity and commitment to helping this dream become reality.