The students at the county's accommodation high school will be busy installing a new rainwater harvesting system after receiving a $2,500 STEM grant from APS and the Phoenix Suns.

Ponderosa High School will use the grant money to purchase some of the supplies for the project, such as a pump and pipes, said TerraBIRDS Executive Director John Taylor. TerraBIRDS helps a number of local schools plant, take care of and learn from gardens on the school property. The project is just one of many the students have been working on for the last several years.

The school’s greenhouse, which was built in 2010, already has a rainwater collection system that flows directly into a cistern located inside the greenhouse. That system collected about 500 gallons of water from the nearly two inches of rain Flagstaff got last year.

The students have already calculated that new rainwater harvesting system should collect around 900 gallons of water from the school’s 1,500 square foot roof. That water will be stored in a tank on site and used to water the school gardens, Taylor said.

As part of the project, the students are responsible for calculating how much water they expect to harvest, designing the system and putting it together, he said. This brings in many of the elements of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) into the project.

The students have already learned how to use surveying equipment to pinpoint the highest point on the school’s property to seat the storage tank that will hold the water, Taylor said.

The project also teaches the students about water and energy conservation, Taylor said. Using information from the city of Flagstaff, the students calculated that about half of the water used during the summer in the city goes to irrigation and about 25 percent of the city’s water bill in the summer goes to moving that water around.

Students also have the option through Ponderosa’s job program to earn a little money while working after school on the installation of the project, he said.

The water from the project, once it’s finished, will be used to water the fruit trees and vegetable garden on the school’s property, Taylor said.

The garden is another on-going project at the school, which helps students learn about STEM, the arts and gives the students a place to relax, he said. The students also recently finished a six-year project building a two-foot-high stone circle in the garden. The circle will provide a gathering place for students, as well as a location for native grasses to grow and a water retention area for overflow from the greenhouse rainwater system.

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