Friday, March 3, 2017

Changemakers show us the way.

Luis Perales beaming with pride that the Changemaker students' proposal was accepted.
When Luis Perales, CEO of Changemaker High School, invited me to meet with him to see how we could help each other, I had no idea what he wanted to talk about. Perhaps a status report on the doc Evan and I were making on water harvesting? It had been awhile since our initial meeting to see how we might include the incredible work Changemaker High was doing in the documentary. After a warm greeting, Luis asked me how I was doing. The great thing is - he really wanted to know. He had seen the frantic posts on my facebook page since Trump announced his intention to remove regulations protecting our water, and he was concerned that I might burn out. And to be honest, I have been stressing out. It seems like every day Trump is making another assault on the environment or human rights. And here Luis was offering support as a fellow sustainability advocate.

WMG coop workshop or "Where's Dan?"
If you’ve read our blog you know how passionate Dan and I are about restoring our aquifer through rainwater harvesting. As more states experience droughts like ours, there will be more competition for the Colorado River water that we all rely on. So it is urgent that we set up water harvesting in as many yards as possible. So, while I’ve blogged about water harvesting, Dan has spent his time digging catchment basins in other people’s yards (along with Watershed Management Group’s fabulous coop), helping maintain the desert landscaping and water harvesting features at Ward 6 and WMG’s Living Lab, giving tours of the Living Lab, and setting up a system to monitor it. 

While I’m thrilled that Dan has dedicated himself to advancing watershed management, it’s also kinda frustrating. With all of his volunteer work, Dan hasn’t had much time left to install our own water harvesting features. Last weekend he finally got around to planting a little mesquite tree in the front yard. And most people don’t have the expertise to work on their own yards, so they have to rely on a few experts. This creates what Luis calls the bottleneck effect – where you have to wait to get the work done. And, as far as I’m concerned, it isn’t getting done fast enough. 

Proposal shows catchment basins and berms in the flood plain
So I was really jazzed when Luis shared the plans Changemaker students had developed for restoring the floodplain in the Naylor neighborhood near their High School. They didn’t wait around for the experts to advise them. Students and educators became experts themselves -  alongside community members and environmental allies that were willing to share knowledge. How empowering is that?!!! 

Envisioning how lush the desert park will be
Luis Perales describes it best:

“The Swan Wash Bridge Project was initiated by a group of students who were challenged by their science instructor to take on a citizen science project that would have a positive impact in the local community. The group of students decided to focus their energies on alleviating a flooding problem that existed up the street from school and adjacent to a local park. The problem of flooding stemmed from the blockage of a neighborhood waterway, Swan Wash, by another local school. This problem was identified by the students because they had experienced the flooding first hand. This experience led them to conduct a root cause analysis, collect data from local community residents, and propose possible solutions. Their project findings were presented to the school, to the local neighborhood association, to local political leaders, and to audiences at local and national conferences. In short, the group of students along with their science instructor became mini experts on the issue of local flooding and the local wash. Their proposed solution was to create a pedestrian footbridge over the wash and to capture some of the flood water in roadside rainwater catchment basins. These basins are intended to utilize rainwater to support the needs of bird/pollinator gardens.”

The students presented their proposal to the Pima County Neighborhood Reinvestment Board on May 2, 2016. The recommendation to fully fund the project to the tune of $229,000 was announced on July 1, 2016! They got the final approval on their revised proposal on the day I was there! Needless to say, Luis’ enthusiasm was contagious!

While I fumble around trying to get the word out about water harvesting, these kids are demonstrating how important it is. They are educating the city of Tucson about transitioning from the current form of water management - flood control - to one that restores our floodplains and groundwater by directing the rainwater with berms and sinking it in with catchment basins. As their project progresses and succeeds, it will be used as a model for other schools to work with their communities on sustainable solutions.

All of this came out of Changemakers’ mission to change the face of education by creating the conditions where young people can turn their ideas into action. Through their example, they hope to create a culture where schools everywhere take on the responsibility of improving their communities. Perales explained, "Imagine what our communities would look like if every school would adopt their local community within a one to three mile radius. Imagine for a second that the school and its resources not only worked within their own gates to teach students to read, write, and do math, but with equal importance, taught students the skills necessary to transform the look, feel, and potential of their community."

Swan Wash Bridge Project Team: Adilene, Alejandra, Victoria, & Mrs. Snook (Missing, Laynah.)
I am so grateful to the Changemaker students for taking the initiative and advancing more sustainable water management as a practical solution for their community. And for giving me hope for the future.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Prayer for Water Protectors evacuating the Oceti Sakowin Camp

Protesters participate in a prayer circle on Turtle Island on Thanksgiving day.
Trump gave permission for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to break the law by proceeding to build the pipeline under the Missouri River with out the required environmental impact statement. The Water Protectors have been asked to evacuate the Oceti Sakowin Camp by 2 o'clock, February 22.

Today at 2 o'clock (N. Dakota time) many will leave the Oceti Sakowin Camp in prayer and ceremony, others (including some veterans) have chosen to make a stand and to be arrested rather than leave.

Water Protector Lisha Sterling writes:

Good morning, water protectors! This is not a vacation! It is time to pray!

In fact, it will be hard to do anything else besides pray today as my thoughts are constantly on Oceti Sakowin, Sicangu and Sacred Stone. May the water protectors stand today in one mind. May peace and strength emanate from the heart of every water protector throughout the camps, and may that peace and strength connect them all like a mycelial web, from heart to heart, mind to mind. May the ancestors and spirits of place rise up to defend the water protectors even as the water protectors stand to defend all our relatives. May those on the side of DAPL and those who would block, remove, or in any way harm the water protectors be confounded today, and let those who have good hearts have their eyes opened and their minds changed so that they too will stand with us.

Let there be peace. Let there be power. Let there be right thinking and right actions.

May our people have the time to fully clear the land that we have called home these many months, leaving no trace, and may we continue to stand together in new places for the protection of the water, the land, the air, and all our relatives as a community of prayer.

Live broadcast of the evacuation here:

or here:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Stop Pruitt from destroying the EPA

Just sent this to Senators McCain and Flake. I recommend anyone who cares about the air we breathe or the water we drink should also write to your senators:

Dear Senator,

I grew up in Southern California in the 60s and 70s. I well remember days we couldn't go outside because of smog alerts when the smog was so thick you couldn't see the back wall across the yard. While LA does still have some pollution issues to deal with, the days of dangerous smog are over. Why? Because President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Stricter emission standards, conversion to unleaded gas, and penalties for communities that exceed safe levels of airborne pollutants have made the air safer for all of us to breathe.

The EPA plays a vital regulatory role in our government. Gone are the days of choking smog, rivers that catch fire every summer, and acid rain. While there is still much to be done, we have come a long way in this nation towards creating a healthy and clean environment.

That is why I am writing you today. President Trump's nominee to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has shown on many occasions (including 14 lawsuits against the EPA while he was the AG of Oklahoma) that he will not support the actions of the EPA that have improved our environment over the last 46 years. I am begging you, please do NOT vote for Scott Pruitt's confirmation to head the EPA.

Thank you,
Daniel Stormont

How confirming Pruitt will prohibit Arizona's progress

I just sent the following e-mail to Senator Flake at:

Dear Senator Flake,

Sure, Arizona has abundant reserves of coal, but that doesn't mean it is in our best interest to extract it from our public lands. Extracting coal uses up our already depleted water supply. Why do that when Arizona has a more abundant and profitable alternative: solar energy. Solar energy has already created more long lasting, high paying jobs than all of the fossil fuel industries combined.  Why aren't we leading the way in this growth industry?

In the midst of a 20 year drought, shouldn't we find more sustainable methods of procuring water than pumping it 320+ miles uphill from the Colorado River? The coal burning plant that powers those pumps has already depleted the Hopi and Navajo's aquifer. Why do that when Tucson has enough annual rainfall to supply every Tucsonan with water. We need to incentivize water harvesting and rebuild our antiquated "flood control" system to sink the water into our depleted aquifers. This would also save taxpayers millions yearly from flood damage.

Investing in a more sustainable infrastructure would not only create job security (rather than those temporary coal mining jobs) while protecting our national treasures that bring in 21 billion in tourism dollars.

It's not too late to be a hero to our children. Please, vote "no" on Pruitt. As head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt will protect the fossil fuel industry, not support a clean infrastructure that will strengthen Arizona's economy. He will cut regulations that protect Arizona's beautiful land, air and water. Confirming Pruitt will only prohibit Arizona's progress.

Jana Segal

Now to Senator McCain...

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tucson's Community Seed Banks vs. Monsanto

Seed Library table during seed exchange at the Loft screening of "Seed."
What distinguishes Tucson as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy is that we are a model for seed libraries with our world renown Native Seeds Search and Seed Library of Pima County Public Library. The purpose of these seed libraries is to maintain a wide diversity of seeds to combat Monsanto's monopoly on seeds that threatens our food supply.
Then why on earth would the Pima Country Board of Supervisors allow Monsanto to have a greenhouse to experiment with GMOs here in Tucson? Isn't that the antithesis of what Tucson stands for? Why would we use our tax dollars to incentivize them?

The people who represent us, the Pima Country Board of Supervisors, are currently holding hearings on Monsanto. 

For more information, read, "Monsanto to grow greenhouse crops in Tucson area."

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Leave the Leaves or Park the Bark

Brad showing off curb cut.
Ever since Brad Lancaster gave us a tour of his lush desert landscaping, I have been meaning to write a blog about leaving the leaves and bark where they fall. We have three big eucalyptus trees that are always dropping something…branches, leaves, or bark all over our back yard.

We have spent hours (days really) trying to pick the leaves out from the crevices of decorative lava rocks, and between sharp agave in our cactus garden. Ouch! It was a revelation (as well as a relief) to discover that it was good for our plants to leave the leaves and bark as natural mulch. (Native trees are especially good for this.)

Let me tell ya, it was pretty friggen’ cool to learn about curb cuts from the man who initiated the first guerilla cuts in Tucson - back when they were still illegal! A curb cut is where you cut out a section of a street curb allowing water to flow from the street into a catchment basin. The water then sinks into the ground and irrigates a desert tree (usually mesquite or palo verde). That is why the trees that line Brad’s street in the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood are so big and full - creating an oasis in the desert. 

A catchment basin with mulch, a bush and a mesquite tree.
Brad explained how he made the catchment basin by digging a 2-3 foot hole, lining the hole with rocks with sections on different levels. He filled the hole with wood chips, and planted desert grass, bushes and trees in the different sections depending how much water they required. The wood chip mulch works together with the roots from the grass and bushes to create a sponge to hold the water, and allows it to sink into the ground, refilling our aquifer. This is what Brad calls "planting the rain."  The roots from the grass also act as a filter to remove any gas or oil picked up from the street. How cool is that!

Brad also shared how he used the chop and drop method to make natural mulch around his trees. He dug up some of the mulch to show how rich the soil was under it. Unfortunately, in Tucson, our idea of a tidy, well-kept yard requires raking up all that good stuff and throwing it in the trash to become part of a landfill. 

Dan pours dish water in channel instead of directly on Hummingbird Trumpets. 
Dan and I have been experimenting with other ways to use these techniques. As some of you may recall, we have been incorporating some simple rainwater harvesting features in our backyard. I dug a little channel from our brick patio to the hummingbird trumpets. Then we started watering them with dirty dishwater. We didn’t want to put the soapy water (even environmentally friendly soap has sodium) right on the plant. So we poured it in my little channel. I noticed the impact of the water was causing erosion, so I lined the ravine with dried leaves from the eucalyptus trees to slow down the flow. (I googled to make sure the toxic leaves wouldn’t hurt the plant. Some people thought it might actually benefit the plant by keeping away bugs. But all toxicity fades when it dries up and starts to degrade.) We also alternate with clear water (the water left over from rinsing vegetables, etc.), to ensure the soil doesn't get sodium buildup.

Bark lets water sink in while rocks help block splashing.
Then Dan began watering the eucalyptus trees with dish water. But when I threw the water on it, it splashed mud back at me. (Kinda like spitting in the wind…) So I decided to try a mini version of a catchment basin – so it wouldn’t splash me. I dug a six inch hole and covered it with some old eucalyptus bark that I crumbled into smaller pieces with my hands.

I dug a hole under the bark and voila... WATER! 
Yesterday, I was curious about how well the water was sinking in, so I dug up the bark and found water under the dirt. The bark was keeping it from evaporating. 

Of course, this is all a process (a learning one at that...) Someday we would like to get a chipper to turn all those sticks and bark into natural mulch to replace the boring gravel that keeps the rain from sinking into the ground. I think Brad would be proud.

For more information on how to "plant the rain" read Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster or contact Watershed Management Group

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Culture Clash with Our Consumer Teens.

As Dan was supervising snack time in the teen space at the library, he was approached by a teen with potato chip breath.

Teen: You get paid to work at the library? How is that possible? What do you sell at the library? You don't sell anything at the library.

This kid couldn’t wrap his mind around the idea that a service that didn’t make a profit had any value.

I’ve heard similar sentiments from my own jobless teen. He has openly expressed his contempt for Dan wasting time working at the library and volunteering for Code for Tucson or Watershed Management Group – when he could be out making real money as an engineer. That money, of course, could go towards a car to drive him to his weekly Magic tournaments so he won’t be forced to endure our sustainable form of transportation (gasp!) - the city bus.

I’m beginning to think that this is a thing - or so I gleaned from a conversation I had with a couple of teenage boys at the Women’s March in Tucson. These cavalier young men felt comfortable in this mass of mothers to boldly hold up signs that read, “Build the Wall” and “Gays for Trump.” The little dickens got what they asked for when they got schooled (or in teen speak, nagged) by somebody’s mother, namely me. I asked them if they cared about the environment at all. They shrugged, “No.” When I asked them why they supported Trump, their unequivocal answer was “more jobs to pay for new cellphones and Xboxes.” (Dan said that there was a group of teens following them laughing, so they may have just been trying to get a rise out of us. Well, they got it!)

Listening to teens with Trump signs at the Women's March in Tucson.
What’s with the youth today? Why doesn’t our son share our values about giving back to the community and living more sustainably? These teens have literally bought into their role as consumers in our capitalistic society. But haven’t we, as a country, been programmed to value the pursuit of profit above all else – even profit without accountability? While Dan and I have pledged to boycott Walmart because they exploit child labor abroad and don't pay their U.S. workers a living wage, our local Walmart just expanded.

What are we really getting out of our “profit first” consumerism? Are we even getting a good value?

Let’s look at some things our American teens consume...


Americans spend billions on the latest clothing fads. What do we get for our money? Disposable clothes designed to fall apart after a few washes, probably sewn in a foreign sweat shop, possibly by child slaves. Poisons from the dyes are dumped into our waterways. After a few months, these clothes are good for nothing but rags or to take up space in a landfill. I may be showing my age, but sometimes I get a yen for the good ol’ days when you could buy classic, quality clothes that would be worth repairing.

Bottled Drinks:

Look around at the store. We have shelves full of every kind of drink you can imagine. Yummy! But to get the plastic to make all those bottles, oil is pumped miles and miles through leaky pipelines. Oh, you drink water? How much do we really pay for that 89 cent bottle of water? Nestle is taking water that has been pumped 320 miles uphill (a whole coal-fired power plant was built to power the pumps that has already used up all the water in the Hopi and Navajo’s aquifer). All of those bottles then become a part of five massive plastic “islands” in the ocean. 


In America, we can get any food we want, when we want it! But really…how fresh and healthy is our food? To have a longer shelf life, our food is filled with chemicals and preservatives. To improve the flavor they add addictive sugar to everything. (But at least that has spawned the diet industry...) Even our produce is transported from neighboring states or shipped across the ocean putting CO2 and other toxins in the air. Rain-forests are cleared to raise beef cattle. We Americans just love our weekly specials. But what is the human cost of those bargains? The people who harvest our foods live in squalor and can’t even afford the foods they pick. (For just one cent more per pound, the pickers could double their income to a living wage.) Meanwhile, millions of tons of food is thrown into landfills because it is damaged, unattractive or there is just too much of it (lowering profit.) Luckily, there are some good people working on preventing food waste

Fast Food:

Every parent laments how much junk food their teen consumes. But fast food fits perfectly into our busy lives. At home it’s frozen convenience items (about as flavorful as the disposable boxes they come in.) It may be cheap, but you get very little actual nutrition for your money. Fast food restaurants do supply two or three low paying jobs for each of their workers. To maximize profit, companies fight a raise in the minimum wage. But fast food does contribute to heart disease and diabetes – creating higher paying healthcare jobs. Though the minimum wage workers can’t afford healthcare insurance - so if they have an emergency they can choose between seeing a doctor or having dinner. If they choose the doctor, we can step over them on the street because they have no value in this society since they are no longer consumers.

So what do I say to our consumer teens?

We may not have all the latest gadgets, the biggest screen TV or even a car. But we are blessed to have a comfortable little house. Dan’s library job leaves him time for his passions: teaching robotics and computer programming, building community, and getting out in the beautiful desert landscape to install rainwater harvesting features. It actually makes us feel good (gasp!) to carry our own delicious drinks in our cool WMG water bottles - knowing we aren’t adding to the plastic island. We enjoy treasure hunting for quirky clothes at the thrift store. Tending our little garden and cycling to work gives us a chance to enjoy our beautiful Tucson weather. And nothing beats the excitement of seeing our little rainwater harvesting projects working!

Even my teens can appreciate the yummy home cooked meals and fresh baked bread that Dan has time to make - not to mention the time he has to spend with them.

And just look at these smiles...