Category Archives: Energy

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