The City of Tempe is taking the initiative to upgrade its green infrastructure with the launch of the Rain to Roots Master Plan and is looking to get the public's involvement in the buildup.
The Valley of the Sun struggles with a unique problem in dealing with droughts and extreme heat, as well as monsoon storms that can harm buildings, roads and people. In order to conserve water and prevent floods, Tempe has set its eyes on Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI). This infrastructure looks to capture rainwater where it falls through vegetation and skillful engineering maneuvers that absorb water rather than redirect it to a storm well.
The Rain to Roots Master Plan seeks to incorporate GSI throughout the city and update building codes that will help cool Tempe while conserving as much stormwater as possible. Officials say that the incorporation of GSI will be based on data that includes heat, equity and flooding information.
Ten different city departments are collaborating in researching and developing GSI models with funding coming from Tempe's capital improvement budget and its general fund. Along with their own research, the departments are looking for input from local residents.
The Rain to Roots Master Plan Ambassador Program aims to help Tempe residents learn about the city's green efforts while being transparent about the master plan. Residents in the ambassador program meet up on the first Wednesday of every month until Fall 2024.
"It's a chance for residents to review the project and project progress, but also share what's important to them in terms of what they would want to see," said Madeline Mercer, Tempe's neighborhood resilience coordinator. “So rather than waiting until the end of this whole process ... we really want to get feedback on all the phases that lead up to our final master planning."
There were around 25 people at the program's first meeting, Mercer said, and now there are 44 ambassador members with more expected to join.
Anne Till is one of the ambassador members who has been a long-time advocate for green stormwater infrastructure and neighborhood greening. She has designed and implemented several neighborhood grant projects intended to make Tempe a more sustainable city. Till said in a written statement that through the ambassador program, she was able to offer her thoughts on how Tempe can help cool the city.
"I work with our neighborhood on neighborhood grants that promote reducing urban heat, collecting stormwater, providing shady walkable/sitable areas, and bringing nature to our neighborhood," Till wrote. "Because of my gardening experience, I use woodchips as a ground cover and hope to see the city promote that more; it is a cool surface that reduces urban heat and retains rainwater which keeps soil cool and moist for plants and trees."
Till's ideas were complimented by residents like Shawn Swisher, an architect who is a member of Tempe's Sustainability and Resiliency Commission. Swisher highlighted the importance of GSI in Tempe and said there are flaws in traditional stormwater management methods.
"The traditional way the cities have dealt with stormwater is that they look to get it into a storm sewer and into a pipe as quickly as possible," Swisher said. "Not only are we moving that stormwater in an unnatural way, but the places where it might be going, including aquifers where we keep our water underground in a natural fashion ... are put at risk when we don't allow that water to drain in a natural way."
The opinions of Till and Swisher are some of the input that the program is looking to use to tailor Tempe's green infrastructure.
"We really just want to create an open space for dialogue about these topics with the community so that we can capture more ideas from what people want to see in Tempe," Mercer said.
The next ambassador's meeting will be Oct. 4 at 5:30 p.m. and residents interested can sign up here.
Edited by Alysa Horton, Alexis Waiss and Caera Learmonth.