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Tucson and Pima County effort to capture stormwater

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Pocket parks capture stormwater, create green space and help reduce flooding.

TUCSON (KVOA) -  Tucson is the third fastest-warming city in the United States, according to the Water Education Foundation. Arizona is in the midst of a two decade long drought and Tier 2a water cuts were announced earlier this month. But both Tucson and Pima County are leading the way in water conservation.

Construction started last week on the city's first Storm to Shade project at the CSM Martin R. "Gunny " Berreras Memorial Park on the southside. 

"What the Storm to Shade does is it captures those flows of storm water that is other wise washed away into those storm drains and go through treatment. What we do is capture that water as close to on site as possible and then direct it into vegetative basins nearby to grow vegetation and grow trees," said hydrologist Blue Baldwin, manager of the Green Stormwater Infrastructure Project.

Baldwin says the Storm to Shade program mitigates the urban heat island effect  and conserves water. "All this water that we're capturing and using to support native vegetation and trees is water that is not being tapped from our potable resources so we're really offsetting for irrigation use because we don't really need to be using our drinking water to support plants. This also reduces flooding on streets.

The city is also working with Pima County to create Pocket Parks in flood prone neighborhoods. One pocket park sits at the corner of Dodge and Seneca. 

" Then to reduce the flood plain effect, and kind of capture the storm water, retain those waters. the district went through and installed pocket parks," said Joseph Cuffari, Public Information Officer with the Pima County Regional Flood Control District.

One of Pima County's biggest projects is the Kino Environmental Restoration Project - or KERP.

KERP was designed to control flooding, collect stormwater and create a native eco-system on the city's southside. 

"There's about a 17-mile watershed that drains into this area. And because of that we've been able to capture large amounts of storm water flow throughout the years," Cuffari said. The water comes from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the Tucson International Airport. Cuffari said the county can't access either location so it built KERP to capture the stormwater from the area.

KERP can retain more than 114 million gallons or 350 acre-feet of water in the constructed ponds " If we didn't have that basin a lot of business and homes would flood but because of that storage we're actually able to capture that storm water , reduce that flood plain and remove people and property from flood hazard," Cuffari said.

The water is also used to irrigate playing fields at the Kino Sports complex, landscaping at the University of Arizona, as well as the Herbert Abrams Public Health Center, Sam Lena Park, and the Public Defenders, Juvenile Court and Adult Probation buildings along Ajo Way.

According to Pima County , stormwater harvested at KERP has saved taxpayers more than five million dollars and helped conserve precious water when every drop counts. "And again not having to use that water means increased water supply for drinking for Tucson area residents," Cuffari said.

For more information on KERP click here. For information on Storm to Shade, click here.

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