Rain Garden to Address Flooding with Desert Plants on Tucson’s South Side

Sonoran Institute and Watershed Management Group to host a public celebration at new demonstration site

TUCSON, Arizona (Jan. 30, 2018) – The newly built rain garden demonstration site at New Hope/Nueva Esperanza United Methodist Church will be presented to the public during a celebration on Sunday, Feb. 4.

The event will begin with a potluck lunch at 12:30 p.m., feature speakers such as Tucson City Councilwoman Regina Romero and conclude with a tour of the project. Sonoran Institute’s senior director of programs, John Shepard, and Watershed Management Group’s cultural ecologist Joaquin Murrieta and technical director, Catlow Shipek, will be on hand to show how the site has been transformed. Volunteers from recent community building events will be able to show off their hard work and share their success.

Airport Wash runs past the church and regularly floods during heavy rains, making the streets dangerous for both cars and pedestrians in the surrounding Elvira neighborhood. The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) awarded a $55,000 Blue Water Project Leadership Grant to fund the planning and building of the rain garden. Sonoran Institute was one of four organizations in the United States and one of 28 organizations globally to receive the award due to the project’s alignment with RBC’s goals to fund the protection of watersheds and access to clean drinking water. Richard Schaefer, senior vice president and branch director of RBC Wealth Management in Tucson, said, “Any time you have a project where whole neighborhoods come together to build resilient and sustainable solutions is a reason to celebrate. It’s satisfying to see the positive outcomes, like added safety and better stormwater management, that my organization was able to fund through this grant.”

Rain gardens reduce flooding through landscape restoration, such as the installation of basins, desert trees and shrubs. “The trees, irrigated with stormwater, will grow to provide cooling shade and more inviting streets,” said Shipek. “Rain gardens can be easily adapted to a variety of spaces. They also provide many benefits to the community compared to traditional flood control infrastructure, like storm drains. Plus they’re easier to build by community members willing to put in a bit of a work with us.”

John Shepard of the Sonoran Institute added, “Another benefit that can’t be overlooked is the impact this project has on overall watershed health. Airport Wash eventually runs into the Santa Cruz River, and this project will help improve water quality downstream by capturing sediment and pollutants before they reach the river.”

Community input was a necessary ingredient in the success of this project. Sonoran Institute’s Shepard further explains that the collaborative nature of the organization seeks to include the views of everyone who might be affected. “We look for ideas from neighborhood residents because they are the experts at this site, walking to school, driving to work; they are here every day,” he said.

The neighborhood’s top priority was to reduce flooding in the area so that children can easily access the school and neighborhood yards and homes will be protected. Pastor Agustin Jimenez of New Hope has worked with the Elvira Neighborhood Improvement Plan, which identifies historic planning problems, for over a decade. He described the process of working with conservation groups as “important for us to improve our surroundings and our environment. This experience offered a way for the community to find common solutions to our common problems. We want to enjoy the rain again, and this garden is one way that we will.”

New Hope/Nueva Esperanza United Methodist Church is located at 6740 S. Santa Clara Ave., Tucson, AZ 85756. Lunch will begin at 12:30 p.m., speakers at 1:15 p.m. and the tour of the site will be at 1:45 p.m.

John Shepard, Sonoran Institute
(520) 290-0828 x 1108, jshepard@sonoraninstitute.org

Jamie Manser, WMG
520-396-3266 x18, jmanser@watershedmg.org

Seth Cothrun, Sonoran Institute
(520) 290-0828 x 1110, scothrun@sonoraninstitute.org

Video and Photos: To set up video or still photo shoots illustrating this story or on-site interviews, contact: Corinne Matesich, Sonoran Institute, Marketing Communications Coordinator. 520-290-0828 ext. 1105 or cmatesich@sonoraninstitute.org