Category Archives: Design

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.

Adaptive Actions with Tijeras Creek

 

Tijeras Creek during a dry season. The remediation project is uphill on the left.

Upper Tijeras Creek during a dry season. The project site is up to the left.

When I first visited the Tijeras Creek Remediation Project two years ago, it was to explore large-scale earthworks: a system of basins, swales, berms and spillways.  I discovered that much more is occurring there.  The project returns natural processes to the upper creek’s floodplain and expands watershed awareness and resiliency know-how.

Before: Degraded Environment

Following the expansion of A. Montoya Elementary School, stormwater from the parking lot and rooftops flowed through culverts that dumped onto the stream bank.  But when it rains just two-tenths (.2) inch, over 300,000 gallons flows into the area.  The intensity of the water carved out gullies, carrying pollutants from the parking lots.  As water rushed through the gullies, it carried loads of soil into the creek.  Some people used the area as a dumping ground. Thus:

  • Water pollution
  • Groundwater depletion
  • Invasive plants
  • Loss of bio-diversity
  • Degraded public space.

Ongoing: Resiliency

The opportunity to develop solutions that mimic nature was something that Jim Brooks couldn’t resist.  Jim has offered volunteers a variety of skill-building activities using permaculture principles.  As Jim describes it, “We’re treating the water with respect when it falls into the site.” The teams practice a variety of adaptive actions, revealing soil as a living thing.  It’s a long-term process that includes new basin and spillway installations this year.  

Thus:

  • Water Harvesting with earthworks
  • Groundwater supports floodplain.
  • Clean stormwater enters creek.
  • Water is stored in living systems.
  • The plant /soil / food web expands.

The earthworks and soil techniques are applicable in many places where development and nature meet, and volunteers are inspired to practice them in their own places.

Work Parties Dig It

Querencia Green is coordinating work parties with volunteers for the spring and summer.  We’ll start on Sunday, March 20 with Albuquerque Involved volunteers and anyone who wants to participate (wear suitable work clothes).  Tools are provided but you can bring your own. The project site at 24 Public School Road is only eight miles from Albuquerque’s eastern boundary.

We’re also sponsoring field trips with high school classes to increase outdoor experiential learning! Teachers can contact Joanne via the Contact page.

More news about the spring events appear on Facebook Tijeras Creek Remediation Project.  

During 2015 and 2016, project support is provided by the PNM Foundation, and field trips with Highland High School are supported by Albuquerque Involved.  Thanks to all who are part of the resilient solutions!

Environmental Education in Place

Many school campuses have portable buildings, eroded soils, and bare landscape areas.  At the School on Wheels High School in the South Valley, our Places We Live team saw an opportunity for a small earthworks project.

During rainstorms, a downspout on a portable building flowed next to the building and the water collected and evaporated in a low area.  A bio-retention basin could protect the building, improve soil, increase infiltration and nurture new plants.

School on Wheels

Terry Dunbar on site before installation

Joanne McEntire of Querencia Green joined Science Teacher Terry Dunbar at School on Wheels and the Environmental Education Association of New Mexico (EEANM) to install the water harvesting project during the workshop series Places We Live.

The series began with an educators’ workshop to provide the place-based environmental education curriculum from Project Learning Tree.  The South Valley MainStreet board chair, James Aranda, provided a cultural overview of the  neighborhood, which created a greater “sense of place” for the group. Barbara Garrity of EEANM and McEntire explored the Places We Live curriculum.

To focus on issues of water and the important values of trees, McEntire provided activity materials and reviewed key components of rainwater harvesting.  To prepare for the earthworks installation, she designed the basin and arranged for the needed installation materials, and a few science students put in some preliminary time on the site.

Photo: Cass Landrum

Photo: Cass Landrum

A multi-age crew of students from Jimmy Carter Middle School and School on Wheels, plus educators and crew chiefs, made the installation workshop an energetic success!  We built a ‘splash basin’ under the downspout, dug a larger, shallow basin for the runoff, lined the sides with rocks, made “sponges” in the bottom of the basin to catalyze microbial activity, and covered the bottom with woody mulch.

Splash basin under downspout

Splash basin under downspout

 

The crew planted a Desert Willow tree and Autumn Sage on the edges of the basin, which will expand the native plant diversity at the school.

Teacher Terry Dunbar enjoyed the following day with his participating students: “When our crew members came in this morning, they grabbed their friends and took them out to the site to show off their work.  They’re proud of what they accomplished.”

MS students sage plant C

Planting a Sage on basin edge

Future possibilities for students in the expanded outdoor learning environment include observing microbes in the soil sponges, comparing it to the native soil, supplementary watering in the first dry season, and adaptive actions that repair or improve the site.  The other educators who joined the team hope to create water harvesting projects at their schools or homes.

This team project was made possible by the Albuquerque Community Foundation.  Crew

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.

Querencia Green Reaches Out with Partners

2015 Monsoon News from Joanne McEntire

The accelerating need for adaptive resilience in the US West motivates me to continue the work of Querencia Green: providing outreach and educational opportunities about green infrastructure and water harvesting.  The Juan Tabo Seed Library and the city’s Open Space Visitors Center hosted my Water Harvesting Basics class last spring,  Homeowners with run-down yards or difficult, eroding areas got a new perspective about tending the water/ soil connection.  I’ll be at the Urban Homesteading Club on August 24 with an accelerated version of the class.   Thank you to the site hosts of this free class!  

During the past few months, I worked on a few grant proposals that are leading to new resources for Querencia Green.  A complex project up the watershed of Tijeras Creek holds numerous educational opportunities.  In collaboration with Jim Brooks, the site manager of the Tijeras Creek Remediation Project (aka Soilutions‘ lead man and soil expert), we will strengthen the educational opportunities at the site: hands-on experiences with green infrastructure, suppression of invasive plant species, and improvements in soil health and stabilization.  I first explored the site in early 2014 and reported in the blog post Earthworks Working.

Jim Brooks explores the restored plant community at Tijeras Creek with visitors.

Jim Brooks explores the restored plant community at Tijeras Creek with visitors.

The good funding news: ABQ Involved has provided a small grant for field trips with Highland High School’s Advanced Science class to the Tijeras Creek Project.  A new grant from PNM’s Power Up program will increase the number of field trips and work parties at Tijeras Creek while supporting an expansion of the streambank recovery area.  We’ll post news about upcoming workshops in the next month so you can get out there to dig, pull and rock.  Thank you to the Environmental Education Association of New Mexico and Executive Director Barbara Garrity for your support in submitting the grants, and all the collaborating partners, current and future!

In other ‘free’ hours, I’ve practiced water harvesting design as a community service to the Valle del Oro National Urban Wildlife Refuge, focusing on its old farmhouse, and the Walatowa Charter High School at Jemez Pueblo.  One more service project is in the works.

Practice practice practice.  And observe.

It’s raining, again.

 

 

 

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.