Category Archives: Albuquerque

Taking Water Harvesting to High School 

When I got a call from Amy Bell, lead Landscape Architect at Groundwork Studio, about providing a high school with water harvesting activities, I couldn’t resist.  Look at that rooftop on the south side of the school building, draining onto an gravel-covered opportunity site!

A project-based curriculum for high schools, Water Harvesting on Site, is one of the results.  Initiated in early 2017 at at ACE Leadership High School in Albuquerque, we developed a set of activities that guide students through the main steps of designing with rainwater.  We also provided a conceptual landscape plan for part of the school campus that would sink stormwater into earthworks (basin, swale, berm) for landscaping plants and store it in a water catchment tank for a garden bed.

The preliminary curriculum is now offered to educators who are interested in integrating Earth Sciences, Mathematics and Design lessons on a school campus or other local site.  The focus is on the place where students go almost every day, where they can relate to stormwater as a resource for growing food gardens and healthy landscapes.

The curriculum is aimed at project-based programs where instructional support and materials can be provided.  The activities can be connected to STEM standards (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), plus Art!  In addition to project-based learning, this could work for an independent study program or even home schooling.

Considering the children and youth in this age of climate change, we need to generate on-the-ground experiences that connect rainwater, soil, and plants, leading to resilient landscapes.

Activities

  1.  Site – Observe and Map Water Flows
  2. Site – Assess Rooftop Water Supply
  3. Site – Assess Soil Drainage
  4. Site – Survey contours
  5. Site Summary: Landscape design – mapping
  6. Environment: Watersheds and Drainage
  7. Environment: Precipitation and Climate
  8. Environment: Plants and Water Demand
  9. Design Strategies: Water Storage
  10. Design Strategies: Earthworks
  11. Design Strategy: Soil enrichment
  12. Option: Design project

Educators who are interested in reviewing the curriculum can contact Joanne McEntire on the Contact Page.  Please note your school or organization, and location.

Trees, Hot Cities and Water

Re-thinking trees and rainwater

The connections between trees, stormwater, and the soil / water web are not always obvious in our cities and towns.  With the approach of El Nino, it will help to maintain a broad view of climate change and long-term drought, and to keep in mind the human inclination toward the hydro-illogical cycle!

hydroillogical cycle

Hot cities

The urban forest in the mid Rio Grande region has been in trouble for a while.  The drought and invasive insects have stressed older trees and caused many to die.  Impervious pavement increases with urbanization, which can increase the heat island effect.  The graphic report at Climate Central reveals that Albuquerque ranks second in the US with the biggest difference between urban and rural temperatures.

The researchers looked at summer urban heat islands (average daily urban-rural temperature differences) over the past 10 years.  Albuquerque’s urban area has soared 22 percent higher (in the cities) than in surrounding areas (with less impervious area) on some summer days. Hotter temperatures mean more ozone, a dangerous air pollutant.

More trees and parks, white roofs, and alternative materials for urban infrastructure can help reduce the effects of urban heat islands.  Climate Central

The Arbor Day Foundation provides a visually complex infographic showing the differences between an urban water system with a few trees compared to a thriving urban forest.  Look at the changes that occur on parking lots.

Treeless Parking Lots are unsightly, add to stormwater runoff and are a source of heat that is not only uncomfortable but increases air pollution.  Arbor Day Foundation

Earthworks, trees and water go together!

It’s encouraging to see results of a study Doubly Green Trees from the American Society of Agronomy: earthworks (bio-retention basins and swales) and trees function very well together.  Santa Fe based designer Aaron Kauffman reports that the water content in basins and swales is greater than in areas without earthworks.  In New Mexico, more water retention = healthier soil and plants.  No big surprises there, but more hands-on implementation within our communities is necessary.

Water infrastructure plus

With the global water crisis growing and the reality of climate change and financial impacts upon us, The Economist has joined the conversation.  “Working with the Flow” includes the infographic shown below.  Natural with engineered water infrastructure integrates more aspects of the natural ecosystem and produces more benefits, but financing systems need to go through a major paradigm shift.

Natural infrastructure provides services that underpin the way we manage our river basins and therefore the way we grow food, generate electricity, and supply water to cities.  At the same time, it maintains important biophysical processes, and endows our environment with species and habitats.  Critically, water drives our climate, and therefore climate change affects the hydrology we so heavily rely upon.  The majority of finance directed towards adaptation to climate change is used to solve water management challenges on the ground, and yet water is poorly integrated into climate change policy discussions and funding proposals.    Mark Smith, The Economist

As our older trees die off, we can adapt and create more resilient urban and rural landscapes.  Whether you live in a dense central area with numerous workplaces and homes, a neighborhood with single homes, or dwell beyond the fringes of the city, re-think trees, water, and soil.  Advocate for more classes and workshops, water harvesting and tree incentives, and skill-building programs to generate land and water resilience.

Planting the Water for Green Learning Spaces

Do you have a favorite school, one that you attended, or where your children learn?  Do the outdoor areas provide a natural experience?  It seems that many school campuses around Albuquerque have unused spaces that could offer students outdoor opportunities. Other schools feature water-friendly green infrastructure with new facilities that are designed by professionals.

The swale near the Highland High Science Building in fall season

A few years ago, the Science teachers at Highland High School were happy to move into a new Science building, but there was no landscaping near the main entrance.  Gale Borkenhagen teaches the Advanced Environmental Science class, and she connected with other teachers who realized that the barren space was not going to pass.

Stormwater from the rooftop flows onto the site through two downspouts.  A retired teacher, Maura Montoya, dug a swale to slow and convey the water.  Overflow water was then conveyed into a nearby bare space through a pipe under a sidewalk.  Gale generated small grants from local funders, and bought a number of diverse trees.  Students have helped maintain the grove, with custodians adding water as needed.

Gale Borkenhagen visits the grove in winter.

The grove now becomes a mini-oasis in monsoon season, and it’s a textured, colorful space year-round.  Many of the trees provide shade on the building (saving energy) and an “encounter with nature” that people need for mental health and functioning.

Creative teachers nurture the love of nature throughout the public and charter school systems.  Teachers and students are building and growing edible gardens, and rain barrels or tanks can store rooftop rainwater for use in the dry months of the growing season.  There’s a lot of rooftops on school sites in New Mexico’s cities and towns .

Exploring an unused space at Valle Vista School

Observing the low and high, pervious and impervious areas.

Recently, two visitors explored a barren space with teacher Mike Goss at Valle Vista Elementary School.  Here is an opportunity site for a small grove that students can plant and love.

Currently, the water that flows off the nearby rooftop collects in the space with very compacted dirt, and slowly evaporates.  Instead, it could infiltrate into broken, loosened up, amended soil within earthworks (basins and swales), allowing new plant roots to uptake the water.

 Old and New Drainage Infrastructure

Highland High – drainage area at downspout on old building

Like many old school campuses, Highland High has a number of degraded outdoor spaces and stormwater problems near old buildings.

Look for new buildings that are built by the Albuquerque Public Schools; they may feature green infrastructure that was included in the design and budget for the building’s construction.

The newest building on the Highland High campus features connected basins on two sides of the building, with trees and bunch grasses planted near each basin (below).

Large basin with winter rain in front of new Highland High School building 

Stormwater Solutions and Opportunities

During the summer in New Mexico, you can expect to see a lot of rain fall to the earth within an hour.  A half-inch.  An inch.  Did you see the water flowing down the streets, carrying dirt, gravel, and pollutants? This monsoon season has offered several (though not enough) opportunities to get wet and see the impacts of stormwater, particularly in Albuquerque’s downtown area during a local storm.  The monsoon is also the time to appreciate visible, functioning Green Infrastructure.  Players across the mid Rio Grande region are designing and building green infrastructure as a stormwater management strategy with beneficial uses.

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Basins filled with rainwater are soothing and cooling, while they absorb water from rooftops and parking lots, allowing it to slowly infiltrate and nurture plants.  The basins in these photos were intentionally designed to prevent stormwater flooding problems.  Water that could have flowed onto streets or eroded a stream bank can instead spread, sink and nurture a living landscape.

Pine Cone Technology

Understanding your site is central in designing and nurturing a Green Infrastructure / Rainwater Harvesting solution.  One of the simplest and most elegant techniques I found this year is in Rick Borkovetz and Diane Scena’s front yard.

The native blue gramma grass is largely sustained by natural precipitation.  Rick describes: “The grass slopes downward to the sidewalk.  To solve the problem of losing precious stormwater that used to flow onto the sidewalk, we dug a small trench along the edge of the sidewalk and filled it with pine cones that drop from the trees overhead.  The trench captures the stormwater before it reaches the sidewalk.  This seems to be where many of the ‘feeder’ roots of the pines are located so the stormwater is concentrated where it will be most beneficial.  Over time, the pine cones break down into mulch that can then be shoveled back onto the grass, and the trench is refilled with new cones: a never ending cycle.”

Opportunities to Grow Water Solutions

The 2014 Forum for Innovative Stormwater Infrastructure will be on Friday afternoon, October 10 at UNM.   The New Mexico Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (NMASLA) convenes this open forum each year.  Six presentations from landscape architects, other professionals and advocates for green infrastructure will share their stories and news about projects and policies.  The forum is free and registration is required.

NMASLA also offers a great opportunity for hands-on learning, on the morning of October 10:  The Green Streets BootCamp with James DeRoussel from Tucson’s Watershed Management Group.  Registration and a fee are required.

Compost happens, but in this arid land it helps to have some knowledge and experience!   Master Composters teach others how to compost.  The training course to become a Master Composter is scheduled from October 11 to November 8 in the North Valley.  The course gives you the expertise to volunteer with Bernalillo County Extension Master Composters. There is a fee for the training and some volunteer hours are required.

Water Blues dvd Logo

We have the water blues, but green solutions are appearing in New Mexico and around the U.S.   Water Blues, Green Solutions is a documentary film about four cities that are confronting water quality and supply issues with innovations in green infrastructure, water conservation and strong public involvement programs.  Querencia Green and other champions are requesting a local TV broadcast of the film.  The DVD is available for home and educational screenings, and resources are available to explore on the website.

News: Water Harvesting Workshop, Garden Park Views

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The monsoon in central New Mexico has been delightful, frustrating, spotty and intense – we know what “variable” means!  Climate change is leading to more variability in precipitation while average monthly temperatures are on the rise.  We protect and enhance our places when we slow the flow of stormwater and efficiently use it for outdoor spaces.   With the potential El Niño next winter, there could be too much of a good thing!  Fortunately, householders are re-thinking and re-designing gardens and yards, and local classes and community projects are materializing.

Summer Class  – Intro to Water Harvesting and Green Infrastructure

Jeff Adams of terrasophia, LLC is providing an Introduction to Water Harvesting and Green Infrastructure workshop on August 23.  The final in a series of three workshops, Jeff covers a lot of territory about earthworks and catchment tanks, design and installation principles.  Slow it, spread it, sink it!

Jeff will be the lead instructor for the Rainwater Harvesting and Green Infrastructure certification course with the Watershed Management Group in September (the course is currently full).   He brings a practical and integrated approach to each project as a designer.  Jeff has a depth of experience in water harvesting training programs, including lead instructor for the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association’s (ARCSA) Accredited Professional training.

The Intro class is on Saturday, August 23, 1 – 3:00 pm, at the City’s Open Space Visitor Center, 5400 Coors Blvd. NW.  Register in advance:  watershedmgnm@earthfutures.us.  

 La Mesa Neighborhood Garden Park Grows

Kyle Carr, producer of the local access TV program, Landscaping Southwest, visited the Garden Park on the first planting day in late Spring.  This video segment jump-starts with John Bulten of East Central Ministries (ECM) and Trey Hammond of La Mesa Presbyterian Church, followed by Joanne McEntire of Querencia Green.

The trees that we planted in the two basins with school children and youth are Desert Willow and Privet (NM Olive).  Shrubs include Utah Serviceberry, Sea Buckthorn, Cherry and Purple Sage, and Red Yucca.  After several weeks of hand watering, the plants are settling in with the monsoon.  Neighborhood youth crews have led the way in mulching, weeding and putting in penstemon and sage,  Everyone is welcome to visit the park at 406 Espanola NE.

A grant proposal for the Garden Park was chosen as a finalist for the August vote by ABQ Involved members.   ABQ Involved works with community groups  and creates short videos for members to view before they vote for their favorite – a fun, online way to support local organizations!

 

 

 

 

Seasonal Notes – Spring into Resilience

Water resilience rebates, free classes, and hands-on training

It still feels like Spring in mid-May, with snow dusting the tallest of the Sandia mountains—a perfect time to develop more resilience in using water.  Affordable or free materials and diverse learning opportunities make it even more possible to conserve and re-use.

If you really want to get your feet wet, Catlow Shipek from Watershed Management Group shares the news about their Rainwater Harvesting certification course in Albuquerque.   Bring it!

Tree love = mulch

Mulching shades the ground, retains moisture, and nurtures the small and microscopic critters that create living soil.  Wood mulch is sold at nurseries and by soil expert / local provider Soilutions.   Professional arborists and tree care companies may have extra wood mulch from the trees that they prune and remove, and you can pick up a load if you shovel it.  Or, DIY and recycle your branches and dead trees by renting a mulcher from a home and garden store.

Once you have the mulch, form an area around the tree’s drip line that will contain 3 inches of mulch.  Explore and view TreePeople‘s video for more.

Roll out the rainbarrels. (It will rain.)

Rebates for rain barrels are available from the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.  You buy a barrel and send in the required form with the receipt.  The rebate amount is based on the size of the barrel.   (Also, a program that recognizes the drought’s impact on the urban forest, “Tree-bates,” helps pay for tree maintenance, such as irrigation equipment, fertilization or professional tree care.)  Free short classes on efficient outdoor water use, xeriscaping and how to benefit from the Water Authority’s rebate program are offered every month.

Living in the country?  Property owners in the unincorporated area of Bernalillo County who aren’t customers of the Water Authority can qualify to receive a 100-gallon rainbarrel with installation support for $40.  Rain barrels can provide water during wildfire emergencies as well as water for animals.

Materials for rainwater harvesting projects can be found at no or low cost through the ABQ Freecycle group and on Craigslist – farm and gardening.  Billy Kniffen is an terrific water harvester and offers videos on DIY barrels.

Watershed Management Group announces Water Harvesting  course

Catlow Shipek of the Watershed Management Group (WMG) provides this news:  WMG, a non-profit educational organization, is excited to bring its Water Harvesting Certification course to Albuquerque.  The 7-day intensive program, which will be offered September 15-21, provides the highest quality and greatest depth of training in integrative water harvesting offered in the nation. Join our list of Certified Practitioners to integrate new skills and knowledge into your practice, educational, or advocacy work.

This unique course includes hands-on training through actual implementation of a rain garden, plastic rain tank, and a laundry greywater system.  Instructors will include author Brad Lancaster, WMG co-founder Catlow Shipek, and Santa Fe based permaculture and water harvesting designer Jeff Adams.  An early registration discount is available until July 18th.

 

La Mesa Neighborhood Garden Park: A Green Infrastructure Demonstration Project

Consider a vacant lot on a neighborhood corner: flat, barren ground.  A school is across the street and a church is on another corner. 

Imagine a park that’s a garden, an outdoor classroom, and a community gathering space.  Its name is La Mesa Neighborhood Garden Park.

Seventy-five people gathered at La Mesa Presbyterian Church in late 2013 to add their voices to the Garden Park vision and to volunteer.  Partners from the church, East Central Ministries, La Mesa Elementary School, and Escuela Luz del Mundo are planning activities for students from the local schools, working families who live nearby, and older residents who want more contact with nature and neighbors.

Querencia Green sponsored a workshop to explore rainwater harvesting and green infrastructure for the Garden Park’s design plan.  We gathered on a warm January afternoon and walked around the site with stormwater, sun, and wind on our minds.  Then, fortified with juice and cookies, we sketched ideas on aerial maps and explored a few questions:

  • Where does the water from heavy rainstorms flow on the site?  Does it flow off the site?
  • How can we design for stormwater to support new trees, forming the foundation for vegetable garden boxes, pollinator-friendly habitat, art projects and a gathering space?

Water to trees

Everyone wants trees in the Garden Park; most people living in the high desert love their natural beauty.  Trees provide habitat and shade, absorb pollutants, “lock up” carbon, and generate positive effects on people.  They are also water catchment strategies by storing water runoff in their root systems and conveying it upward to branches and leaves.

Graph monthly precip ABQ

Albuquerque precipitation, 30 year average amounts

Every type of tree and shrub has its own water needs.  A Desert Willow is a native resident in Albuquerque’s urban forest, and it’s not water greedy.  It requires a minimum of 12 inches of water per year.  But Albuquerque’s average annual precipitation totals 8.7 inches.  So the desert willow will need supplemental water of three to four inches.  How do we provide it?  The workshop crew agreed that the design plan should feature tree basins to collect stormwater and prevent it from running into areas where the water is not needed. 

Alicia Petersen, Querencia Green’s Project Assistant and a graduate student in the UNM Landscape Architecture Program, is preparing the design plan, and we’ll provide a presentation to the team by early spring.  John Bulten, director of East Central Ministries, remarked, “Our team has been planning activities for volunteers to connect and work on the Garden Park site. The green infrastructure design will lay a foundation for success and introduce them to methods of using water where it’s needed the most.”

A vision of neighbors, students, and community partners designing, digging, planting and building is becoming real.