Friday, July 19, 2024

Storm to Shade Across Tucson

 by Blue Baldwin, Storm to Shade Program Manager

Grabbing the water off the road to grow healthy tree.

In the cool early hours of a midsummer morning in Barrio Kroger-Lane, long-time resident and community organizer, Josefina Cardenas, prepared breakfast burritos to share with her neighbors to fuel their morning’s work. With the support and expertise of Tucson Clean and Beautiful’s green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) maintenance team, Josefina and her neighbors took to their neighborhood streets to care for the GSI assets built there over the past decade. As they pulled weeds, collected trash, and spread native seed mix, nanas and tatas worked alongside younger generations, sharing their knowledge of desert plants and their healing properties and memories of the nearby river that once flowed perennially.

Tucson Clean and Beautiful is one of six maintenance contractors deployed seasonally by Storm to Shade (S2S), the City of Tucson’s GSI program housed at Tucson Water, to ensure the safety and functionality of some 450 GSI assets located throughout the City’s six wards. This cohort of specialized contractors provides routine maintenance as well as certified arborist services, invasive plant control, reconstruction of assets, community outreach, and stipends to pay community members who wish to be involved in caring for their neighborhoods’ assets. With this workforce in full effect for almost two years, Tucson’s GSI is thriving—providing shade, cooling, habitat, and beautification—thanks to the energy and resources being invested in our City’s urban infrastructure. To view a map of GSI assets throughout the City, see

In another neighborhood, over a dozen children and a handful of adults gathered at the intersection of Holladay Street and Santa Clara Avenue in the Elvira Neighborhood to celebrate the completion of a brand new GSI project with Eegee’s and a native plant give-away. Among them was Beki Quintero, a lifelong servant of the Tucson community. For years Beki had advocated to decrease the size of this awkward and potentially dangerous intersection situated in a neighborhood teeming with kids. When Ward One’s Budget de la Gente Program launched, this project was selected for funding and Beki and her neighbors’ dream was finally realized. To minimize project costs, S2S collaborated with the Department of Transportation and Mobility’s special projects team to accomplish much of the work in-house--removing pavement, excavating basins, and re-striping the intersection. S2S contracted local GSI experts, Productive Patches LLC, to add the finishing touches--microbasins and swales--and a landscape contractor to plant native trees, shrubs, and succulents. These days if you drive by after school, you’re likely to spot a gaggle of neighborhood kids hanging out near their new green space.

Intergenerational stewards of Barrio Kroger-Lane celebrate work well done.
Intergenerational stewards of Barrio Kroger-Lane celebrate work well done.

To date, Storm to Shade has constructed six new GSI projects, most recently at Ironhorse Park, El Rio Neighborhood Center, Lower Lincoln Park, the intersection of 11 Ave. and Flores St., and the traffic triangle at Holladay St. and Santa Clara Ave. The Aviation Greenway between Kolb and Calle Polar, a collaboration with TEP, will be complete July ’24 and an additional handful of projects are set to break ground by year’s end. Many more are in the design pipeline. For a complete list and story map of projects, visit  

S2S is also celebrating the completion of several large-scale projects funded by Pima County Regional Flood Control District, which serve primarily as flood control facilities but also provide the greening, cooling, and beautification benefits of GSI. S2S provides landscape maintenance for these facilities, which include Cherry Avenue Park, El Vado Basin, Sunland Vista Wash, and soon-to-be-completed Alvernon Park Basins, as well as several others constructed by the District over the past years. 

In the shade of the mature mesquites in the GSI area of Highland Vista Park, a dozen participants in the Pima SmartScape GSI course practice proper pruning techniques under the exacting eye of certified arborist, GSI expert, and SmartScape instructor Emma Stahl-Wert. The group consists of S2S maintenance contractors, a newly minted City Parks project manager, and other landscape pros and community members interested in expanding their knowledge of GSI. This GSI course is one of three new courses offered by SmartScape (funded by Tucson Water’s Conservation Program) developed in partnership with City of Tucson. The others are a one-day SmartScape “Bootcamp” designed as a crash course in best practices for landscape maintenance, and an Urban Forestry Management course. The goal is for every City employee who touches landscape to complete all three courses. This investment in staff significantly reduces unintended damage to landscapes, boosts morale, and creates a ripple effect as folks transfer knowledge among their peers in the field.  

Emma guides SmartScape participants through proper pruning technique.
Emma guides SmartScape participants through proper pruning technique.

Looking forward, S2S hopes to better align with the City’s equity goals by evaluating new models for prioritizing capital investment that center equity as the primary driver for investment rather than equality. Currently, S2S capital investments are divided equally across the six wards and the Mayor’s Office. Given vastly different demographics, green space, and climate vulnerability across the wards, equal investment is not equitable investment. Tucson is not alone in grappling with this issue. The conversation around GSI and equity is happening at fever pitch across municipalities and utilities in North America and is the central theme of myriad conferences, webinars, and publications. S2S, the Urban Forestry Program, and other Tucson programs’ use of Tree Equity Score as a tool for prioritizing investment within wards has positioned us a leader among our peers in North America, and we are excited to continue to lead by making S2S a truly equity-driven program.  

Path to tree equity
path to Tree Equity 

-reshared from the City of Tucson Climate Action Report

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Celebrating the start of purslane season

So excited that purslane season is finally here. We celebrated with a yummy smothered purslane and potato breakfast burrito. 

Purslane season officially begins at our house after the second monsoon downpour. But my story doesn't start there. I am always on the look out for purslane to relocate into my yard. (Why does everyone get purslane before we do?) So I planted some I found in front of The Loft Cinema. But I guess I really jumped the gun this year. Before it could spread, it was eaten by the critters in our sun burnt, barren desert food forest. (Honestly, I'm glad they found something to eat.) 

But did that stop me?  More recently I planted a few sturdy purslane that already had some little yellow flowers. Since they were about to go to seed, I hoped that they would spit them out. And spit they did!  Check out the baby purslane that spouted round the mother plant! Once the monsoon rain started they spread like crazy! 

Purslane seeds get caught in the gravel

Success! See them sprouting along our gravel path.

I usually try to plant them near something I am already watering. But in my enthusiasm to get them going, I have been known to water them with rainwater from my cistern. Yep. I water my weeds! 

Here I am harvesting some for a celebratory brunch. They are best harvested in the morning before they wilt in the hot July sun. Notice that I leave some of the branches intact so it will grow back! 

Next I rinse them off  3 or 4 times. The little black seeds fall to the bottom of the bowl. I pour the seeds and water where I want some more purslane to grow.

Full confession. I was anxious for the horse purslane to start growing in our shallow basin, so I had planted one in the middle of said basin - that was immediately eaten by a hungry critter. But I needn't have worried. After a couple of big rains the horse purslane came back on its own. I am looking forward to it becoming living mulch

Here I am taking a pic of the first horse purslane growing along our gravel path and in the remaining poppy stem mulch. 

Back to what you all are waiting for... I chopped the purslane stems and leaves and sautéed them with some onion then added them to some home fries and scrambled eggs. Seasoned with garlic salt. Yum!  You can also add green chilis. But we were all about celebrating the purslane today. Wrap it up in your favorite tortilla. 

We cooked some more purslane in half a small can of green chili sauce and doled it out on our burritos!
Dan likes a lot of green chili sauce

Cheers to the start of purslane season!  I hope you enjoy one of our favorite purslane recipes. 

You can find that recipe and another favorite recipe here

UPDATE June 14: Baby purslane is starting to get big! 

Check out the horse purslane coming back in our rainwater basin. Soon to be living mulch!

The start of living mulch to nourish our basin!