Category Archives: Trees

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.

Work Parties Move Earth for Water

Volunteer and come to a work party at community sites on Sunday, May 3.

Together with Soilution’s Adaptive Terrain Systems and East Central Ministries, Querencia Green is hosting a field trip for participants in the national River Rally.   Visitors will stop at La Mesa Neighborhood Garden Park and the Tijeras Creek Restoration site, two community-driven, outdoor spaces that are associated with Tijeras Creek, a major tributary of the middle Rio Grande.  Some of the visitors have never been in New Mexico, and we want to share some urban and rural experiences “up the watershed.”

Join the site managers at one of the sites to move mulch, improve the water catchment basins’ soil health and meet more water harvesting / soil health champions.  Experience rainwater harvesting and essential maintenance tasks after April’s wonderful showers!

La Mesa Neighborhood Garden Park                2 – 4 pm

406 Espanola St. NE, Albuquerque  – NW corner of Espanola and Copper; park on the street.

Enjoy an hour or two with John Bulten of East Central Ministries, team partners, and neighbors who are creating the Garden Park.  Water harvesting basins that were planted last year with trees and shrubs need maintenance.  Fluff the soil, move wood mulch, and improve soil and water systems!

Tijeras Creek Restoration Site                  8am – 5pm

24 Public School Road, Tijeras – just south of the I-40 exit for Tijeras, past the stoplight.

Join Jim Brooks of Soilutions / Adaptive Terrain Systems and community volunteers to maintain stormwater catchment basins, berms & swales, explore soil sponges, and weed out invasive plants!  Park in the school parking lot and look to the stream bank.

Bring your water bottle, hat, work gloves, and wear work clothes; also raking or weeding tools if you have them.

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 

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.

 

Designing to dig: La Mesa Garden Park

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Our second demonstration project reached an important milestone: Alicia Petersen presented the rainwater harvesting design plans for La Mesa Neighborhood Garden Park to the community partners.

The plan features two basins along the sidewalks to collect stormwater from the site and support native trees and shrubs with edible berries. The Desert Willow and New Mexico Olive are drought tolerant trees, yet they’ll take advantage of occasional flooding. Certain plants are adapted to desert precipitation patterns and the trees that we selected are also favorite natives.

The design plan also features a circular area with fruit trees in a basin that nearly surrounds the space. In time, the circle will create a sense of enclosure and become an inviting space for picnics and neighborly gatherings. A small basin planted with sage and yucca on the primary corner of the site will feature a low wall along the edge.

While developing the plans, team members also met with Jim Brooks of Brooks Terrain Systems. Jim has the local experience and equipment to move earth while thinking of water.

With the team’s acceptance of the design plans, we lost no time in moving some dirt. On a bright day we marked key areas with flags, and Jim set up his Dingo machine and started the grading work.  Two other team members arrived with needed supplies and energy.  Better yet, it wasn’t windy!

The Garden Park team continues to reach out to volunteers in the area. Joel Wooldridge, a team member from La Mesa Presbyterian Church, talked with local residents during their annual neighborhood meeting.  He noted that “Every one of them was thrilled about the project and its prospects for improving the area.”

The team will soon announce work parties to move rocks, plant trees and shrubs, and carry out an efficient watering plan. Students and neighbors will also be involved in creating gardening and art projects, shade structures and seating areas. To receive news about work parties, send a note to Winona at winonapoole@cybermesa.com.

Greener neighborhoods, especially those with green common areas, can encourage social bonding between neighbors and improve the social setting. Residents that are more attached to their community have higher levels of social cohesion and social control, less fear of crime. (University of Washington, Green Cities: Good Health)