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Tucson wants to use stormwater to create more shade

Published: Jul. 19, 2016 at 8:07 PM MST|Updated: Jul. 20, 2016 at 2:16 AM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A way to turn down the heat in Tucson. It involves "greening-up" our roadsides.

Most of us know about rainwater harvesting at our homes and businesses, but this is stormwater harvesting.

You use little architectural features to capture the rainwater that runs down the street and send it into gardens on the sides of the roads.

"I mean this is new plants over here. These trees look like they were already there, but they're definitely going to do much better," said Tucson Water's Fernando Molina as he showed us bump outs near Broadway and Euclid.

They are small peninsulas that stick out from curb so they can capture storm water.

They do their work during rainstorms.

"You're able to actually capture some of that stormwater that's out in the streets, put it to a beneficial use by creating nice vegetation. You get trees and a lot more shade," Molina said. "Some of the other purposes they serve in a neighborhood like this--traffic control. If you have an area where you have a lot of traffic and it's moving really fast, this is a way to slow it down. And as another objective, I'd say I think just neighborhood beautification."

"Our biggest objective is to mitigate the impacts of urban heat island. It's a very real issue. It's basically, as we build our cities, we have a lot of pavement and a lot of concrete and a lot of roofs and buildings that hold heat in the summertime," Molina said. "The objective is to just try to create more shade so that you can help keep things a little bit cooler."

Another stormwater harvesting method that could work well in many parts of Tucson is the curb cut.

It's a retrofit for older streets but already built in to newly improved streets.

Crews just cut a notch in the curb, dig out an area between the street and the sidewalk that can hold water and add trees and shrubs.

"So what we've accomplished is we've gotten a lot of stormwater off of the street. So that can help reduce a little bit of the flooding issues that we deal with here, but more importantly, we can put all this vegetation in here and green up the community.

Tucson water wants to do more stormwater harvesting in parts of Tucson, especially on the south side where there's very little tree canopy.

Molina said it's especially important as climate change raises temperatures and could create serious problems, including health issues.

Molina said it's not cheap to do this, but Tucson Water has $350,000 for a pilot project for neighborhood-scale stormwater harvesting on more streets. He said the program will get started later this year.

Molina said Tucson Water also wants to conduct studies to see how bad the heat problem is and how much it will take to cool the city down.

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