Tucson Green Stormwater Infrastructure Workshop Engages Local Stakeholders

03/24/21 09:58:am

By Tara Doyle and Stella Heflin

Tucson’s forceful monsoon rains make stormwater management a high priority. But the aridity of the Southwest demands water conservation. Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) meets both of these needs by reducing precipitation-related flooding, pollution, and erosion while allowing for urban water storage. GSI takes a variety of forms in Tucson, including vegetated bioswales, rain barrels, curb cuts, and water retention basins.

Despite the growth of GSI in Tucson over the past two decades, maintenance responsibilities remain unclear, hindering cooperation within the City of Tucson and the wider community, which has resulted in anger and frustration over incidences of mishandled GSI landscapes."

A stakeholder engagement workshop was held virtually recently to engage local stakeholders in a dialogue around GSI maintenance as part of a larger process to draft a GSI maintenance protocol for the city. This is the first step in a comprehensive process to bring municipal and citizen stakeholders to the table, to agree upon a shared GSI maintenance protocol, and to provide trainings in proper care of GSI landscapes for City and County staff and contractors that interact with GSI.

“We envision the GSI maintenance protocol to be a living document, to change and evolve over time as we learn more through trainings and practice,” said James MacAdam, the Superintendent of Tucson Water Public Information & Conservation Office Workshop participants included representatives from NGOs, neighborhood associations, the City of Tucson, Pima County, the University of Arizona, and local landscape contractors.

The workshop provided a space for a variety of stakeholders to share their perspectives and learn from each other while influencing Tucson’s future GSI maintenance policies. Participants connected on their shared experiences and their vision for a more sustainable Tucson. Topics of discussion involved vegetation, watering, soils, and community engagement.

Blue Baldwin, GSI Program Manager for the City of Tucson, facilitating a conversation with stakeholder participants titled “Weed or Wildflower?”

The workshop was organized through a community-university partnership, led by Dr. Andrea Gerlak, Professor in the School of Geography, Development and Environment at the University of Arizona, and Acting Director of the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy. The partnership brings together University of Arizona faculty, staff, and students with city officials and community members to collaboratively build a GSI maintenance protocol. “We are just thrilled to partner with the city and larger community on this effort. Students and faculty at the University of Arizona really benefit from the real-world engagement and problem-solving,” said Dr. Gerlak.

Team leaders James MacAdam and Blue Baldwin led a series of listening sessions with City of Tucson officials to gain insights into challenges and opportunities with GSI maintenance in Tucson. As fellows with the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3) program, we have been conducting research on the maintenance strategies of several Southwestern cities to learn from neighboring cities. Amy McCoy and Keaton Wilson, of Martin and McCoy, facilitated the workshop and will lead future stakeholder feedback efforts on the draft protocol.

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