Thursday, February 6, 2020

"Move Tucson" Transportation Master Plan: Your input needed!

Last night I attended the City's transportation event to launch Move Tucson.  The goal is to create a Transportation Master Plan that is good for everyone. Mayor Regina Romero spoke about the importance of getting community input and support. So, please, take a few minutes to fill out the survey (link below.) She stressed that this information will be used as guidelines for ACTIONS to be taken by the Mayor and City Council. In addition to community hearings, there will be outreach at the major bus stops and in neighborhoods - to ensure equitable representation. 

The Transportation Master Plan is an important step in mitigating climate change and in making Tucson more sustainable. I personally ride the bus, so I see the need for more stops and later running times. Right now you can't get everywhere in Tucson. Also, I've heard stories of people getting stranded because they didn't realize that the bus stopped running so early. Imagine being stranded on a cold night. If we are going to get more people to ride the bus instead of driving all over town in one-passenger vehicles, then we need to make it accessible and comfortable. I shared that opinion on the survey below. You can share your thoughts too. 

Move Tucson, Delivering Mobility Choices

The City of Tucson is preparing a city-wide transportation master plan that will create a mobility blueprint for the City's future in a rapidly-changing world. The plan will be innovative, creative, and inclusive. By working together, we can commit ourselves to create a mobility future that works for all of us. How can streets be made safer? How can we expand travel options so more people can walk, bike, or take public transit? How do we improve reliability of travel time, particularly as we grow? We need your help shaping the City's vision and action plan to answer these questions and more. Together, we can create the city we want to be. The outcome of the planning process will be a document that informs the Mayor and Council's decisions in the very near future about policy, resources, and how welcoming and livable our city is to visitors, residents, and business owners.

Interested in helping to shape Tucson's transportation future? Take a short survey and share what's important to you.

If you missed the meeting last night, Here is a Youtube video from the keynote speaker. 

Gabe Klein, co-founder of Cityfi, and co-author of "Start-Up City."

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

What Kind of Climate Champion Are You?

With the tipping point rapidly approaching, we all need to do everything we can to mitigate Climate Change to ensure a more resilient future.

There are many kinds of climate champions. If you're wondering what you can do, here is a sampling of champions and many types of actions we can take. Check out this list and decide which actions to include in your daily routine. Mix and match. Or come up with your own.

Desert Adapted Gardeners

This rebel gardener bucks the system by growing fresh local edibles that don't require fossil fuels to package them or transport them. The Desert Adapted Gardener promotes food resiliency while conserving the desert's most precious resource, water.

Some examples of what Desert Adapted Gardeners do:
  • Sow low-water heritage seeds/fruit trees and edible native trees.
  • Implement earthworks, greywater and rainwater harvesting
  • Use low-water methods: ollas, cardboard covering and organic mulch to hold the moisture
  • Enrich soil with local compost and mulch
  • No-till farming techniques  
  • Position complimentary plants nearby to keep away pests or enrich the soil 
  • Keep chickens for poop to fertilize the garden and bcause chickens eat pests 
Composting food scraps keeps them out of our landfills. At the landfill, food and yard waste  release methane, a greenhouse gas that's 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Compost is a natural way to nourish our gardens without nitrogen fertilizer made from fossil fuels. 

Local First Shoppers

Local First Shoppers lower their carbon footprint by purchasing fresh, seasonal produce from local farmers and gardeners. They keep their shopping dollars in the local economy by shopping at local businesses whenever possible.

Imported non-local ingredients can require up to four times the energy of an equivalent locally sourced diet.. The typical meal in the U.S. currently travels anywhere from 1,200 to 2,500 miles from pasture to plate.

Buying local has a strong multiplier effect in the economy in addition to reducing the transportation carbon footprint. A 10% increase in purchasing from locally owned businesses in lieu of national chain stores would yield nearly $200 million in incremental major metropolitan area economic activity and create 1,300 new jobs each year. A dollar spent on local products and services can circulate in the local community up to 15 times.

Some examples of what Local First Shoppers do:
  • Shop for local produce at farmers markets, Co-op, & Community Supported Agriculture
  • Support local artists by purchasing their work at gift giving time
  • Shop at locally owned thrift stores and repurpose shops 
  • Dine out at local restaurants and brewpubs that use locally sourced ingredients
  • Bank at local credit unions that have divested from fossil fuels
  • Purchase Zero Waste Products from local businesses
  • Shop at local bakeries that use native ingredients
  • Avoid products made with palm oil to protect the Rainforest 
  • Shop at businesses that have adopted low-water and energy efficiency features 
  • Rent apartments that use rainwater to irrigate native landscaping and gardens
  • Show support of local businesses by using cash instead of credit 
Local restaurants and businesses create a sense of place and community that makes Tucson a town that people are proud to call home.

Zero Waste Shoppers 

How we shop has a huge impact on the planet. Zero Waste Shoppers try to avoid purchasing products in single-use plastic or Styrofoam. They also use less paper products in order to save trees that sequester carbon. 

Their sustainable lifestyle is an example of how we can transition from a wasteful consumer lifestyle. The goal is to cut back on the manufacturing of single-use plastic that is made from, produced and transported with fossil fuels. The container is used for a moment and then ends up in overflowing landfills (that produce carbon dioxide and methane) and often ends up in our oceans where it is consumed by sea critters. It has been said that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish. Even recycling requires energy, though not as much as mining and then manufacturing new items.

Striving for a Zero Waste lifestyle includes following the 7 R's: Refuse, Reuse, Return, Repair, Repurpose, Recycle, Rot

Some examples of what Zero Waste Shoppers do:
  • Tote reusable grocery and produce bags to the grocery store or farmers market
  • Bring a reusable water bottle everywhere
  • Reuse glass jars to store food
  • Replace paper products with reusable napkins and scraps of cloth to save trees 
  • Avoid plastic packaging by buying bulk whenever possible
  • Bring reusable takeout containers and silverware to restaurants
  • Dine at restaurants and food trucks that provide compostable takeout containers 
  • Repair appliances rather than purchasing new ones
  • Wear hand-me-down or thrift shop clothes and accessories
  • Buy quality clothes that can be mended rather than fast fashion that ends up in landfill
  • Resist impulse buys of cheap plastic products
  • Cook ugly produce and compost food waste
  • Harvest the fruit from their fruit trees and share it with a neighbor. 
  • Buy products made from produce rescued by Iskashitaa Refugee Network
  • Stop dying hair with chemicals
  • Shave with reusable razors rather than disposable shavers 
  • Recycle as a last resort, but recycle properly
  • Join the conversation at Zero Waste Tucson 

Vegetarians for the Planet

The rain forest is being mowed down to pasture methane-farting cows. We need to protect those ancient trees because they sequester carbon and make the air we breath. The Rainforest has been called the lungs of the earth.  (Not to mention all the biodiversity and wildlife habitats that are being lost.)

One reason that Vegetarians for the Planet have stopped eating meat is to cut down on carbon and methane emissions (and because they love animals, of course.) Vegetarian-only diets generate up to a whopping 42% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and lead to dramatically lower overall environmental impacts compared to non-vegetarian diets.

I realize that not everyone is ready to give up their juicy burgers. But if everyone cut back on their beef consumption, it would have a huge impact. 

Water Conservers

Water is a precious resource in the desert - especially after a 20 year drought and with climate change looming. Our main water source, Colorado River Water is pumped 326 miles to Tucson in Central Arizona Project (CAP) canals. Coal powers those pumps.

Water Conservers are conscious of the water they use and aim to save it.

Some examples of what Water Conservers do:
  • Turn off the tap when brushing their teeth or shampooing hair
  • Conserve water by using the same water more than once
  • Pour dishwater on compost pits or bushes
  • Soak recyclables in dirty dishwater
  • Put a bucket in the shower to collect water while it is heating up
  • Take showers outdoors to water landscaping 
  • Use greywater from washing machine to water trees
  • Replace lawn with desert landscaping
  • Replace high-water-use appliances with water-efficient appliances
  • Install low-flow toilets
  • Use composting toilets

Water Harvesters

Rainwater Harvesters work on water security in the desert by making the most of our rainfall. Greywater Harvesters supplement that by reusing water from washing machines and condensation from air-conditioners.

Some examples of what Water Harvesters do: 
  • Dig the plastic and gravel out of their yards so the water can sink in 
  • Install catchment basins and cisterns to keep the rainwater in their yards to irrigate native trees, desert landscaping and gardens
  • Reuse greywater from washing machines to water drought-tolerant heritage fruit trees
  • Use the condensation from air-conditioners to help water heritage fruit trees
  • Organize neighborhood green infrastructure projects
  • Join a co-op to install rainwater harvesting features in other people's yards and at schools 
If we all did rainwater harvesting, there would be enough water for everyone in Tucson without relying on CAP water. Green infrastructure directs street water to drought tolerant trees that shade Tucson and sequester carbon.

Outdoor Exercise Enthusiasts

Biking and walking contribute to a healthy lifestyle enjoying our lovely desert - with the knowledge that we aren't contributing to pollution or worsening climate change by driving everyday.

Nature and Wildlife Lovers 

With more and more of our wildlife going extinct everyday because of lack of habitat (and climate change threatening to aggravate the situation), many nature and wildlife lovers are transforming their yards into edible forests and habitats for birds and pollinators by planting native plants in mulch covered catchment basins.

River Restoration restores biodiversity by creating lush habitats for wildlife along the river's tree-lined banks. Join a team at Watershed Management Group, the Sonoran Institute, or the Sierra Club.

Pull unwanted "weeds" by hand or eat them to keep from spraying Roundup that kills bees (and has been proven to cause cancer.).

I'm gonna throw picking buffel grass in here too. Buffel grass is an invasive species that spreads like wildfire and burns so hot it can wipe out our iconic saguaros. Note: when picking be careful not to spread the seeds. It's best to pick them before they go to seed. Just after it rains is easiest .

Energy Efficient Homeowners 

Energy Efficient Homeowners are mindful of their carbon footprint by reducing the amount of energy they use in their home.

Examples of what Energy Efficient Homeowners do:
  • Turn the thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer
  • Turn off the lights and unplug appliances when not in use
  • Switch to LED light bulbs 
  • Replace old appliances with energy-efficient versions (see Solar Energy Adopter too)
  • Make sure appliances are in good repair and filters are clean
  • Install double-paned windows and increase attic installation
  • Plant trees on the north, east and west side of the house to shade it
  • Make sun tea or cook in a solar oven instead of using fossil fuel energy to cook

Solar Energy Adopters 

There's one resource we have plenty of in Arizona - Sunshine.

When it's time to replace old appliances, air conditioners and vehicles, Solar Energy Adopters buy energy efficient, electric versions to be powered with rooftop solar.  Some install an electric car charger in their garage or carport.

Electric Car Aficionados

Our personal vehicles are a major cause of global warming. Collectively, cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all US emissions, emitting around 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases for every gallon of gas. About five pounds comes from the extraction, production, and delivery of the fuel, while the great bulk of heat-trapping emissions—more than 19 pounds per gallon—comes right out of a car’s tailpipe.

Electric Car Aficionados can charge their car using solar power.

Environmental Advocates

If we all contribute our best efforts, we can have a huge impact on mitigating climate change, decreasing unhealthy pollution, and protecting resources. But some of us need a little more nudging to take positive action. So that's why we have the Environmental Advocates.

Environmental Advocates contact politicians and those in power to encourage them to support laws that protect our planet and curb climate change. That can mean making a phone call, writing your local, state and federal politicians, or meeting with them in person. They weigh in on bills in committee at our state legislature by using Request to Speak. Environmental Advocates also provide public input at  city council and board of supervisors meetings.

They can advocate for actions that:
At this point, we all need to do everything we can to mitigate climate change in order for Tucson to thrive in the future. There is something on this list that anyone can do.  Consider what can you do that would have the most impact in the short amount of time we have left.

Need moral support? Join a Sustainability Community

Sustainable Tucson meets the second Tuesday of every month and has an active facebook community.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Support Tucson's Green Stormwater Infrastructure Program

I am so excited about the City's Proposed Stormwater Management Program. Installing more Green Stormwater Infrastructure is one of the most impactful actions we can take to make Tucson water independent and secure in the future.  As a citizen advocate, I have attended G.I. planning meetings at the Pima Department of Environmental Quality. I'm so impressed by the incredible the work that the  city and county are doing to implement Green Stormwater infrastructure using guidelines by Watershed Management Group.  To really be sustainable, we need these systems to be built all over town and to be maintained.

The proposed green infrastructure is important for a sustainable future for Tucson.  Please, support the Proposed Stormwater Management Program and Fee by familiarizing yourself with their proposal and providing your feedback in the following survey and showing up at the Mayor and Council Study Session.  

Take this quick survey on the proposed stormwater project here.

UPDATE: 700 people participated in the survey. 80% were positive or extremely positive. There was discussion on extending the survey past the original date - September 4, 2019 (the date of the Mayor and City Council meeting.)

I encourage you to write your city council member to show your support. 

Find your city council member here:

On September 4, 2019.the City of Tucson's Mayor and Council held a study session on a new funding program to support the development and maintenance of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) across the city to reduce flooding, promote shade trees, along with many other benefits.

Catlow Shipek from WMG shared:

Thanks for your support! We had ~20 supporters in the audience which was acknowledged by the Mayor and Council members.

The motion proposed by Councilmember Durham and amended by Councilmember Romero passed unanimously to direct the city manager to implement the fee review process for a $0.13 per CCF volumetric water use (includes public notice and town halls) will include a fee equity review (comparison of larger commercial to residential) and not be applied to qualified low income customers.

We will be sure to keep folks abreast of developments as it will come back to M&C for formal adoption after the public review process. Here's to a more livable and sustainable Tucson!

More information: 

Scaling up Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) - Watershed Management Group

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Premiere of Music Video Parody: No! (That Isn't Recyclable)

Sustainable Tucson Movie Night and Premiere of Our Music Video Parody!  

At a recent Sustainable Tucson meeting, Sherri Ludlam (Environmental Scientist from the City of Tucson Department of Environmental and General Services) informed us that China would no longer be accepting all of our dirty recycling because of contamination. When Alex Kosmider from Sustainable Tucson's Zero Plastic Waste Team heard about the threat to our recycling program, she decided to educate Tucsonans on the proper way to recycle. She rewrote the lyrics of Meghan Trainor's "No" to include what NOT to recycle. Team Recycle was formed to create a fun music video parody.

Join Sustainable Tucson for a fun-filled "Movie Night" and the premiere of No! (That Isn't Recyclable). Our hosts David Fitzsimmons and the Recycling Fairy Nicole Johnson will lead the Q & A with the filmmakers. After the intermission party we will screen the powerful documentary Trashed with Jeremy Irons. Here's the cool part! It will be shown at The Screening Room - where we shot some of the video! So you can enjoy popcorn and drinks in special compostable glasses!

Recycling was never this fun...
  • A demonstration table by Zero Waste Tucson
  • A "Book Exchange." Bring a book you don't read anymore and take a book! (We especially love books on sustainability!) 
  • Game: Stump our resident recycling expert! Bring a piece of trash to see if it can be recycled.
What: Sustainable Tucson Movie Night
When: Tuesday, August 13, at 6 p.m. (Doors open at 5:30 p.m.)
Where: The Screening Room, 127 E Congress St, Downtown. (Near the Ronstadt bus station.)
Price: Free (like all of Sustainable Tucson's monthly meetings) But feel free to show appreciation to our host - The Screening Room - by purchasing concessions or a drink at the bar.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Didn't my figs do better last summer?

Heritage fig trees last July. 
I like to fancy myself a sort of  a "citizen scientist." Well, I like to take a lot of pics of the plants in my yard to see how they are faring in our hot, dry summer...

This morning I was scrolling down Google Photos. My heart just sunk as I noticed that our yard looked greener in summers past. For sure our "drought tolerant" heritage fig trees were doing better.

Here is that fig tree now...

Heritage fig in greywater basin. Coming back a little since the rain. (Those are bean sprouts I planted for added nitrogen.)
Why is our little fig struggling so?  Dan claims it's not even as hot this summer. But he did say that last year the monsoon rains had started by now...  It can't be just the lack of water, because our fig trees are watered regularly by greywater from our washing machine... Maybe the rain clouds give some relief from the scorching sun...?

I got to thinking. I wonder if it's because it's not cooling off at night like it used to. One evening it got  up to 92 degrees! It wasn't always like this. Before there was air-conditioning people in Tucson used to sleep outside to cool off in the summer.

Some plants (and us humans) need that cooling down time to recover from the hot day. It is vital for our health.

Typical profile of the Phoenix urban heat island (UHI) using the five predominant land types
This phenomenon where it stays hot at night is known as the "Urban Heat Island Effect." All of the pavement and cement in our city holds the heat longer. Phoenix has a real problem with this. I wasn't planning to blog about that this morning. But I am concerned that some people want to make Tucson more like Phoenix with more highways going through town! Our small town infrastructure is a blessing! It is one of the reasons it's cooler here!

One way to fight the heat island effect is to plant more trees. And the city is working on that. Mayor Rothschild championed the 10,000 Trees Campaign. That's great because trees cool down our streets and neighborhoods AND sequester carbon to fight climate change. We could sure use some of those trees to line the sidewalks so people have a shady place to walk or wait for the bus.

As we plant all those trees, we need to be mindful of how much water the trees take and where we are getting the water for them. We are living in a desert during a drought.  As much as we love to grow fruit trees, they require more water. To be sustainable, we need to plant more drought tolerant heritage fruit trees or native trees - and use our wash-water and rainwater to irrigate them.

For our part, we dug out most of the gravel in our yard. We planted "durable," heritage pomegranate and fig trees in a mulch-filled  greywater basin and edible native trees in the front yard. (The mulch works with the roots of native grasses to hold the moisture longer). We water the fruit trees mostly with greywater from our washing machine and rainwater collected in the basin. In the summer, I might give them a little extra water from our 55 gallon rain barrels.

Last Sunday we had our first summer shower. Yeah! I try to use up all the water in the blue barrels before the next rain, so they are ready to be filled up again.  I try to do it first thing in the morning before it gets hot and the water evaporates.

We still aren't doing everything we can do. We plan to install more gutters on our roof to direct more rainwater into bigger cisterns and use rainwater from the neighbors roof to water a vegetable garden. (It helps to have a good relationship with your neighbors!) 

To stop the Urban Heat Island Effect, it's gonna take a community effort. We're all gonna have to plant more trees (and maybe drive a little less so we can dig up some parking lot pavement). Right now, there is enough rainwater to irrigate them all, if we all do rainwater harvesting. There are rainwater harvesting rebates and a low income grant and loan program - yet less than 1% of us are taking advantage of them. Why is that? What can we do about it?  I would love to hear your ideas and solutions.

Meanwhile, we can start where we are. Take the first steps. Plant a tree. Start a conversation with your neighbors. Share this blog... :)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

"Finishing" Our Catchment Basin: Observing and Re-shaping

Yay! Our neighbors finally get a glimpse of what that "River Run Network" sign refers to. We just had our first downpour right after Dan "finished" our catchment basin!

As anyone who has taken Watershed Management Group's Water Harvesting rebate class can tell you, the first thing you do when you're gonna start an earthworks project is to observe where the rainwater naturally goes in your yard and where it puddles.... 

You can see from the photo (below), that rainwater comes down from the roof and puddles by our front door patio.

Notice: the scorched shrub in the middle. Since we are transitioning to a native food forest, we are replacing non-native shrugs with native ones. Our policy is if the shrubs make it through the hot summer without extra water, they can stay. This one did not.  You can see the durable Texas Sage to the right is doing well (partially due to getting water from the roof.) 

See how the water from roof has dissolved the patio. A reminder that we need to put in some gutters to redirect that rainwater where it can be used. 

Previously... Dan had removed A LOT of gravel and plastic so the water could penetrate the ground. 

He noticed that there was a subtle slope in the yard that was directing the rainwater towards the foundation of our house.  Not good!  But look how green the Cat's Claw  and bougainvillea are! 

He had to use a pick to get through the hard clay. 

Checking out the shallow basin. 

Dan got to use some of the red gravel he dug out of the backyard to make a decorative trail...

After putting in a path of red gravel, Dan saw that the basin still needed more shaping....

Hey, it's a process! A process of observing and adjusting to make the best use of the rainwater.

Dan used some of the gravel he had previously dug up to build a mound protecting our foundation with a gravel trail. 

While digging the basin by the little sage (and a dead native plant), we probably overdid it a bit...

Looks like we need a thirsty shrub in that basin! 

NOTE: You should never plant a native tree (like paloverde or mesquite) on the bottom of a basin that holds that much water. They could get root rot and fall over. 

So when shaping your yard to use rainwater, it's good to keep observing during the monsoon rains. (One of our favorite things to do anyway!)  

You can see from this video taken on Sunday, July 14th, that a lot of water is coming down from the roof over our carport. That water should be rushing out of the downspout. So we either need to clear out the gutter or install a bigger one.  Another project! 

A row of  edible jujube would go great where Dan removed the non-native oleanders! Mo' projects! Mo' projects! 

Our "finished" basin...

Well... until the next downpour informs us. 

Monday, July 8, 2019

Thunder Teases of Monsoon Rain

The distant rumble of thunder gave us a smattering of hope that the much needed monsoon had finally arrived. But after a few sprinkles, the clouds rolled on. Such a tease! The fickle rain tickled another neighborhood instead. 

cactus trying to escape the heat
Monsoon season can't come soon enough for us....

You know it's bad when your cactus can't hack the heat!  Even the decorative metal animals seem fatigued. (Or is it just me?)

I know, I know...I heard. The monsoon will be late this year.

"The weather systems that kept the area cool in the spring also suppressed high pressure from moving north into the Four Corners region that brings the necessary heat to build monsoon storms in the area. A thunderstorm requires moisture and heat. Without heat to combine with the moisture, thunderstorms won’t come to Southern Arizona until later in the summer, as the high pressure starts to slowly move north," announced meteorologist Jeremy Michael.

Is Jeremy saying it's not hot enough!  Despite extra mulch and water, this "drought tolerant" heritage fig is down to it's last leaf!

The long hot summer (yeah, I know it's early July) has taught me a thing or two - like maybe those baby figs need some shade covering like the loquat in the background.

And it taught me to be resourceful....

As a result of the late monsoon, I was disappointed to find no purslane growing in our alleyway.  (It usually requires 2 or 3 downpours to sprout.) But I did notice purslane popping up by the emitter at a certain Korean restaurant in our neighborhood. I grabbed a handful of these edible weeds by the roots. I always wash purslane over a bowl so I can pour the little black seeds where I want them to grow in my yard.

So after enjoying the yummy leaves and stems, I planted those seeds and the roots in the basin by our loquat tree.  I figure while I'm cooling off our thirsty loquat, I might as well get double duty out of that water. While I was at it, I went ahead and soaked some beans and planted them there to put nitrogen in the ground. Six beans sprouted. There's one left after the lizard had it's share. Here is what he left of the purslane...

As my bare feet sizzled in the morning sun, I decided I had to do something for the poor bees and birds. I set up a makeshift birdbath - a tomato cage holding a Pyrex pie pan. 

magnifying glass or bird sauna? 
But it was so hot! I was afraid the clear Pyrex might act as a magnifying glass and start a fire - or at least heat up a scalding bath. 

My solution was to purchase a metal plant stand ($20 at Ace) and a terra cotta clay pot bottom ($10.)  I re-purposed some spiritual message rocks (from a super-loud meditation fountain that an ex-boyfriend got me) to place on the bottom for bees to rest on while they drank. Success! The terra cotta pot keeps the water nice and cool. 

On the bright side, the heat showed me which plants were really drought tolerant. If you look past the dying cactus, you can see that our desert-adapted heritage pomegranate is hanging in there nicely. (It does get more shade than the figs...)  Our Hummingbird Trumpets are surviving on just dishwater! Dan's Charlie Brown mesquite tree is flourishing without any extra water. (See last pic below.) And our moringa have come back (after dying in the deep freeze). Some of the bottom leaves have yellowed. Perhaps they are using their resources to support the new blossoms?!

Note: I put our daily coffee grounds around the trunk of the moringa to keep away the ants - that like to come out especially after it rains! 

Another benefit...the delayed monsoon gave us plenty of time to prepare for planting the rain. 

With only a straw sombrero to shield him from the sun, Dan spread out the last truck load of mulch in our front yard basin.