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. Our desert-adapted heritage pomegranate is hanging in there nicely. (It does get more shade than the figs...)  Our Mexican Honeysuckle are surviving on just  rinse water! Dan's Charlie Brown mesquite tree is flourishing without any extra water. (See last pic below.) And our moringa have come back from the roots (after dying in the deep freeze). Some of the bottom leaves have yellowed. Perhaps they are using their resources to support the new blossoms?!

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. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Saving Recycling One Step at a Time (Updated April 24, 2020)

First dance practice for Recycling Video
At Sustainable Tucson's November meeting "Recycling and Beyond", Sherri Ludlam, Environmental Scientist in the Department of Environmental and General Services, informed us that China would no longer be accepting all of our dirty recycling because of the contamination. 

plastic bags caught in the rollers of the recycling machine
Contamination is all the trash that doesn't belong in recycling - including plastic bags that jam up the machines. That contamination is costing the company contracted to do our recycling truck loads of money. Tucsonans put everything from dirty diapers to dead cats to Saguaros in our recycling cans. Sherri reminded us that there are actually people who sort through all that gross trash. On behalf of those workers, she asked that we don't throw anything in the recycling can that we wouldn't want to find.

All that contamination is making cost it prohibitive to run our recycling program. So the city has decided to cut back our recycling pickups to twice a month and may raise our fees. Some municipalities, like Sierra Vista, have dropped their recycling programs all together!

Spurred on by the threat to our beloved recycling program, some of us formed a Zero Plastic Waste team. Our first step was drafting a blog. "Lessons from the Recycling Queen." Then we produced a music video parody of Megan Trainer's song, "No" - that teaches Tucsonans what NOT to recycle.  Alex Kosmider, of Zero Waste Tucson, rewrote the lyrics and recorded a practice tape:

Plastic bags? No
Crushed cans? no
That pizza box? no
You need to let it go
You need to let it go

In the trash it goes. 
Nah to the ah to the, no, no, no

UPDATE: Primary footage was shot on June 22-23, 2019. Thanks to Recyco Inc. and The Screening Room for the great locations! 

No! (That Isn't Recyclable) had a sold-out premiere at the Screening Room on August 13th..  It's now live on Sustainable Tucson's Youtube channel! 

Here's a peek at our rehearsal process...

We started by learning Alex's song...

Our costumer Kasey (on the right) gets familiar with the lyrics. 
Singing rehearsal

Each of the singers recorded their part on the audio track....

Katie Popiel, of Musical Mayhem fame, taught this group of mostly middle-aged women and mothers her choreography. You rock, Katie! 

Break time! Walking the talk. No plastic bottles here! 

Next stop our shoot at Recyclo! 


Latest News:

In an effort to get the message out to more people, we are conducting a fun Dance Challenge! 

Our beloved choreographer Katie has put together a series of short dance lessons. The first one is super easy, and they get progressively harder.  

Dance lesson 1: Easy smeazy dance lesson with Katie!

Dance lesson 2.  You can do this! 

Dance lesson 3: Step up your game!

Dance lesson 4: For those of you who want a challenge!

DANCE CHALLENGE: Using your cell phone record yourself dancing with the Recycling Video and post it on social media!

See! I just danced the easier moves from the first two lessons and posted them on my f.b. page and facebook stories. The post (below) inspired a spirited conversation about our recycling program.

Be sure to include a link to our video:

#recyclingdance #recyclingdancechallenge

Not a dancer? Not a problem! You can help out by sharing the video with your peeps on social media!

Or simply read up on Tucson's recycling rules and share!

Lessons from our Recycling Queen

Go Team Recycle!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Conserve Tucson's precious water by using it twice

A Tucson friend's outside shower waters the plants in their yard. 

You might have read in the news about the negotiations on the drought contingency plan. When they originally divided the water between the various states and Mexico, they divvied out more water than we have  - and didn't take into account Climate Change or our perpetual development. To exacerbate the problem,  many farmers are still planting thirsty plants and the Rosemont Mine threatens to deplete Tucson's ground water. We might wanna rethink the Four Cs of Arizona's Economy: Copper, climate, cotton & citrus.

The city of Tucson has already reduced residential water usage during the past two decades. In 2010, our residential water usage rates were 94 gallons per capita per day. By 2015, Tucson’s water usage was down to 80 GPCD. But we can do better than that. 

If you've followed my blog for a while, you know that I advocate for rainwater harvesting to make Tucson water secure. If everyone does rainwater harvesting, there is enough water for every person in Tucson. Unfortunately, less than 1% of us are doing any rainwater harvesting. And our outdoor water use still accounts for 30% of residential water use in the Tucson area.

Many of us are already conserving water by turning off the tap while brushing our teeth or while soaping our hands or scrubbing our hair in the shower.  Now that we've mastered that habit, the next step is to use our residential water twice when we can. 

State Senator Andrea Dalessandro, who sits on the Natural Resources and Energy committee, mentioned at Environmental Day at the Capitol that she puts a bucket in the shower to catch the water while it warms up. Way to walk the talk! Some friends of ours have installed lovely outdoor  showers that water their backyard landscaping. (I wouldn't recommend this in the front yard!) 

Some of you might remember my blog, "Rebel Dishwater Gardener." Here I am using our clean rinse water in our kitchen garden. 

I dump the dirty dish water in our compost pile to keep it moist.

Especially precious is the coffee ground water that my Tombstone Rosebush (my one sentimental extravagance) and tomatoes plants love. I've been experimenting with putting the grounds around the trunk of our Tombstone Rose and our moringa to deter the leaf cutter ants from stripping them of all their leaves. (I think it might cover their pheromone trail. Still testing this theory... So far it appears to be working! The ants marched by one moringa to gather seeds from a dead weed in the basin...) 

I like to use the veggie water from the steamer pan to nourish the soil by the tomato or curry plants.

We were blessed to have an outdoor washing machine. Dan easily rigged up a greywater system to irrigate sturdy, low water use heritage fig and pomegranate trees. (Our native trees are doing fine without any city water.) 

Another easy way to use water twice is to let your yellow mellow by sharing one flush with your partner in the morning.  But Dan's big dream is to have a composting toilet like the one at Watershed Management Group. (I haven't encouraged this because I would never see my husband.) 

It's not always easy. But using water a second time is a great way to learn not to take our water for granted.

As our politicians bicker over who is entitled to our allotment of CAP water, it is becoming clear that it isn't a sustainable source. We need to transition to a more local system and start conserving water like we live in the desert. Because we do. 

For Information on the social injustices caused by CAP read:

Hopis: Protectors of Earth and Water

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Planting Hope

I watched as the scraggly squirrel that lives in our backyard spotted the bright red blossom on our willowy baby pomegranate tree from its perch on our fence.

When Dan planted the durable, heritage pomegranate and fig trees in our greywater basin, he knew we wouldn't be harvesting them anytime soon. It would be a while before the little pomegranate would even be able to bear the weight of its fruit. Watching the scruffy squirrel scamper away with its flower, I realized it will take years until there is enough fruit for all the garden critters, much less us. But I see now that Dan was planting more than just fruit. He was sowing something for future inhabitants - maybe our boys. He was planting hope.

As our country's political landscape heated up, we watched as one of our neighbors built a metal fortress around their yard and posted NO TRESPASSING. Meanwhile, we planted edible moringa along the sidewalk - an invitation for our neighbors to partake. I tended the seeds daily, watching happily as they peeked through their mulchy blanket reaching for rain drops. Dan had planted hope along with the rain.

And I have to admit, I needed that hope to deal with the political climate especially in the face of climate change. It seemed like everyday another environmental protection was being dismantled by our politicians. The effects of climate change were already being felt here in Tucson: the early summer with its rising temperatures and the sporadic, unreliable downpours. Our flourishing moringa was struck by a microburst!

Then the government came out with a report announcing that we had 12 years to do something to offset the worse effects of climate change. I took that as a Call to Action (as did many of my peeps.)  But some people misinterpreted that to mean it was already too late - we had 12 years until the shit hit the fan - so we might as well party and go out with a bang! That's a perfectly reasonable reaction - if there is no hope. But...


There are lots of positive actions we can take to improve the outcome.

Let's start with something simple. Start by planting one native tree. Or save one tree.

I know. I know. The general response is, "How can one person make a difference?" The answer is: one person can't.  But nobody said you have to go this alone.

What if we all planted one tree? All of us. Billions of us. And then we planted a second tree...

What if  we worked together as a community to install rainwater harvesting systems in every yard to water our edible forests and gardens? There would be enough water for every home in Tucson! The city and county are already installing these systems all over town. What if we all decided to stop cooking with palm oil to prevent the industry from cutting down more of the rain-forest? Those trees sequester carbon! Sure, there's a lot more we need to do. But this is a start. Imagine how much we could accomplish if we worked together!

Right now we need to plant hope more than ever before.

We can get inspiration from the moringa that got hit by a micro burst...

It's thriving now! Growing from roots deeply planted in hope.

Read more:

For the love of Tucson: Creating a desert oasis to combat climate change