Saturday, December 31, 2016

Page Springs Cellars is an inspiration

Page Springs is known as one of the most sustainable wineries in this area. This is a great story about all they are doing.

Monday, December 26, 2016

It's not WASTEwater, it's a resource!

Sedona is reportedly updating its wastewater plan. What follows is our input that we sent the engineer responsible for updating that plan:

We see opportunities through a multi-disciplinary lens: how to solve multiple problems at one time. Unfortunately we have as many questions as we do ideas. But maybe together we can explore innovative uses for the wastewater plant.

Here are some ideas and questions. I understand that these may ask you to stretch your perspective to beyond the plant. So when you are in the mood for some out of the box thinking, please consider these ideas. Since we don’t have engineers on our team, we would love to have your answers to some of our curious questions.

STORMWATER: We already gave recommendations regarding reducing stormwater (especially through green infrastructure) so you don’t waste energy and money treating rainwater. Do you coordinate your plans with those responsible for stormwater reduction?

ORGANIC WASTE and TRAFFIC: We understand there is some concern about composting regarding nitrogen and the artificial wetlands. We have numerous restaurants that would love to have a food waste collection program and because that waste includes meats and fats, a biodigester might be a better option than composting. Is there an opportunity to capture methane off your wastewater treatment plant, plus a biodigester, and could it help power a fleet of tourism-based public transportation buses. See our integrated recommendations regarding traffic reduction.

POLLUTANTS: A+ water still has pharmaceuticals and other pollutants so it’s not potable yet. What would it take to make it potable? Are the pollutants like endocrine disruptors concentrating via evaporation in the artificial wetlands, potentially hurting wildlife? Or is exposure to sunlight breaking them down? What happens when the chemicals in the injected water reaches the river? What more beneficial uses can the existing A+ water be put to? Is it safe to grow food (e.g., fruit trees, vegetables, fish ponds)? If not, what are the best practices/technologies and what would it cost to further treat it so it could be used to grow food? Failing that, what about growing native plants for habitat restoration? Verde River Growers grows native plants for the Forest Service. Wouldn’t it be better for them to use your water than to draw from the Verde River?

We wonder if there is a better use of the wastewater at The Dells property where you are currently disposing of much of it. This could include using your effluent (as is or with further treatment) to grow food, dampen compost or return to drinking quality and mix it with municipal water (which would reduce both arsenic and hardness.) As you can tell from our research, our water table is falling so we need to find better ways to meet our water needs. This is one of 11 sustainability indicators in our Dashboard of Community Indicators which we plan to release to the public after getting feedback from important stakeholders.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Tucson's rainwater and graywater systems provide multiple benefits

Brad Lancaster has a couple books explaining in detail how to do rainwater and graywater systems. They helped my husband and me put in both systems in our new house. We are all familiar with the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle hierarchy for waste reduction. The ah-ha for me in Brad's work is that there is a similar hierarchy in water conservation.

First, direct the water that falls on the land to places it is needed. It's inexpensive to shape the land to put stormwater where you want it. At our house, this stormwater is directed in turn into four small catchment basins, each with a fruit tree. The trees seem not to mind being underwater a couple times a year when we get heavy rains. We can keep on our property the first inch of rain in a day, reducing flooding concerns.

In Tucson, they have cut curbs so rainwater goes into similar tree wells. Why are we directing rainwater into stormwater systems which then have to be processed by wastewater treatment facilities? We are paying to clean rainwater! In a desert. The Alliance encouraged Sedona to include more "green infrastructure" in our stormwater plan. See the pictures in this article.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Poverty, forests and climate change

Some people wonder why sustainability includes social as well as environmental factors. This article shows the relationship between poverty, forest destruction and climate change. Poor farmers need a lot more land to grow food, so they often chop down forests to survive. If you're curious where greenhouse gases come from, check out these charts.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Is the Circular Economy coming to Phoenix?

The concept of the Circular Economy involves closing the loops; it's like recycling taken to its logical zenith. This concept is hot in Europe and China. Now it appears that one of the first places in the US to experiment with this idea may be in the Phoenix area. Can we play a role?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Practical business ideas for reducing food waste and feeding the hungry

London is leading the charge to eliminate food waste. They eat it! Well, not the yucky stuff, but so much is still edible. 

They've developed several different business models to redeploy food to people who can use it, everything from juicing, to selling day old scones at businesses and using the proceeds to fund hunger programs. Read more...

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Food waste: where are we wasting the most?

This chart shows what we waste the most of (what types of foods) and where the waste happens in the supply chain (from farm/ranch to consumer.) Really interesting to study...

Friday, November 4, 2016

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What we know about climate change

Thanks to Bob Haizmann, we have an informative slide deck on climate change: what's causing it and what the world is trying to do about it.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Use excess electricity from solar panels to heat water or your home

This gizmo can store excess energy as heat so it can be used to heat hot water, perhaps replacing your water tank, and/or heat your home. It can also be used to transfer waste heat from one facility (like a server farm) to another that needs the heat. It works like the little hand warmer heat packs.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Are you drinking wastewater?

Researchers at the University of Arizona find that many communities that take water from rivers are basically drinking wastewater from their neighbors upstream. So why don't we do it right? Treat our wastewater until it's potable and then introduce it back into the public water system. This would reduce natural contaminates like arsenic and reduce the calcification that gums up your coffee maker. And of course reduce our demand on rivers and aquifers.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Schools: Arizona regulations for using rainwater or use compost on your school garden

Submitted by Richard Sidy, Gardens for Humanity

Be sure to follow the State regulations in your school gardens.

Credit: Patty West, Verde Valley School garden
Here is a link to the AZDHS school garden main page. Their specific regulations for school produced compost and harvested rainwater are called "attestations" and are found elsewhere on the site.

School Gardens home:

Guidelines for school gardens:

Brochure (I think this has the most complete and concise information and relates to what we are doing):

Some regulations have recently changed due to more school gardens and more demand to use food produced in school cafeterias. The map on the main page shows AZDHS certified school throughout the state including Verde Valley School.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What does it really cost to drop coal-fired electricity?

Oregon, the land of notoriously cheap hydro-electric power, vastly overestimated the cost of eliminating coal by 2030. Costs have come down so much, it will only cost them 0.1 percent (not per year, total.) 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Documentary on Nature-Based Education in Scandinavia

If kids learn to love nature early in their life, they are motivated to care for it throughout their lives. This article provides some highlights on a recent documentary on nature based education in Scandinavia.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

How businesses can save energy

Does your business pay too much for energy? This article mentions several technologies that can you save money and energy, both for heating/cooling and plugs.

Monday, June 20, 2016

How to reduce flooding

 Sustainable Stormwater Solutions for Sedona and Village of Oak Creek

Sedona was asking for input on their stormwater management plan to reduce Monsoon flooding. So we put forth these recommendations: let Nature do a lot of the work.

The Goal: Managing for Multiple Benefits

Elegant, sustainable solutions to stormwater and flooding should address social, economic and environmental needs.
Reduce inconvenience and stress associated with flooding (eg, road blockages, fear of property damage).
Eliminate potential for loss of life.
Reduce stormwater flowing into the stormwater system which then must be treated and processed.
Reduce opportunity for property damage.
Reduce erosion and the spread of pollution
Maximize the use and retention of stormwater for landscapes and natural areas

Courtesy: Pima Association of Governments
Focusing on getting the rainwater quickly into the stormwater infrastructure is an ‘end of pipe’ approach. We believe that the Stormwater Management Plan should focus first on strategies that reduce stormwater from reaching the washes and slowing the water in the washes.  The following are recommendations from the Sustainability Alliance for a more sustainable, front-of-pipe solutions.

Reduce stormwater flows via “green infrastructure”

Hardscapes—Encourage property owners to manipulate the land to keep rainwater on their property, largely through ‘earthworks,’ manipulating the landscape drainage to retain water in a controlled fashion. This includes:
·       Porous pavement
·       Rainwater catchment systems for landscape irrigation
·       Rain gardens
·       Bioswales and collection ponds
·       Curb cuts that let water into natural areas like tree wells
·       Green roofs (not sure if these work in our harsh summers)

Softscapes and undeveloped land—City engineers should work with property owners along washes to:
·       Install check dams in the wash and use the silt as it builds up for landscaping
·       Remove debris and potential pollutants near and in the washes and culverts (and report large logs and debris to the City for removal before Monsoon Season)
·       Seed the banks with native plants to protect the washes from erosion

Investigate Public Policy Changes

Public policy has a large role to play in reducing stormwater flows and associated flooding.
·       Clarify ownership related to surface water. What can a property owner legally do and not do? (Is the table in the EPA document below still accurate?)
·       Where possible, create riparian buffers and/or buy up land adjacent to rivers to allow the rivers to flood naturally. Provide dry dams and ponds that can collect and slow stormwater. Avoid channelizing the water with barriers as this only moves the problem downstream.
·       Review building codes and urban plans for stormwater impacts. Do you require new construction to manage stormwater and use it in productive ways? Can you create incentives for HOA’s to put in stormwater collection systems? Have you zoned areas for development that should better be used as floodplains?

Resources we found especially useful
EPA—Green Infrastructure in Arid and Semi-Arid Climates:
Lancaster, Brad—books on earthworks and rainwater harvesting:

Monday, June 13, 2016

Fed up with traffic?

There are better solutions than building more roads

Sustainable Traffic Solutions for Sedona and Village of Oak Creek

Frustration mounts when traffic backs up beyond the Ranger Station on Highway 179. Traditionally solutions have involved asking for road widening or new roads. But as Enrique PeƱalosa, former mayor of Bogota, said, 
“Trying to solve traffic problems by building more roads
is like putting out a fire with gasoline.”
The Alliance was asked to give input to the Big Park Coordinating Council on solutions to their traffic problems. Below is a revised version of our recommendations for the greater Sedona area. Let us know what you think.

The Goal: Managing for Multiple Benefits

Elegant, sustainable solutions to VOC/Sedona traffic should address social, economic and environmental needs.
Ensure timely access to emergency services and enable evacuations
Increase customers to local businesses
Reduce pollution, especially greenhouse gases
Eliminate serious accidents
Create new economic opportunities and good jobs
Capture stormwater and conserve/enhance habitat values
Reduce traffic delays and associated frustration
Reduce the cost of building & maintaining roads
Protect views and Dark Skies

Five Interrelated Strategies

Architect Mike Bower asserts that we have the perfect situation for public transportation: narrow, linear corridors and millions of visitors. It is unrealistic to assume we could get everyone out of their vehicles. But if we had these following five elements in place, we could make a significant dent in traffic jams while creating new job opportunities.

1) Magic Trolley on Steroids 

Imagine the tourist-focused Magic Trolley (or equivalent) ramped up to offer service every 15 minutes, stopping at:
·       Park-and-rides for day-trippers near shopping areas including the Ranger Station, The Collective/Outlet Mall, Tlaquepaque and Sedona’s Community Focus Areas).
·       Major trailheads so hikers and mountain bikers could start at one trailhead and hike to another.
·       Major hotels where hotel guests would leave their cars and ride.
·       Event venues during special events like the Sedona Film Festival or Slide Rock during holidays.
·       Other stops along the route as requested by riders, eg, the Medical Center.
Perhaps the trolleys could be retrofitted to accommodate bikes. This service could be paid for in a variety of ways including an increase in the Red Rock Pass, a fee paid by events and hotel rooms, diversion of some of the City funds going to the Chamber, or a park-and-ride pass paid for by the travelers. Ideally it would be ‘free to ride’ for visitors and locals.

2) Expand the use of bike lanes for other modes of alternative transportation  

Highway 179 in each of its bifurcated lanes is reportedly wide enough for two lanes in each direction. Dedicate the inside lane to cars. Dedicate the outside lane for:
·       Bicycles (as is the case now)
·       Trolley/public transportation (to ensure public transportation can be as fast as driving yourself)
·       Slow moving neighborhood electric vehicles (to get some percentage of people out of cars and make better use of the roadway)
Since these vehicles travel at different speeds, a priority order would need to be established. All vehicles could move toward the outside to let emergency vehicles to pass. The periodic trolley buses could slip into the inside lane to pass slower moving alternative vehicles.
In VOC itself, the highway is probably not wide enough for two lanes in each direction but we could use the sidewalks for alternative vehicles. One option is to put northbound traffic on the east sidewalk and southbound on the west; divide each sidewalk into two lanes: walkers and wheeled vehicles.

3) ‘Neighborhood electric vehicle’ rentals 

Imagine a vendor that rents a variety of zippy ‘electric neighborhood vehicles,’ two-, three- and four-wheelers, some with solar panels and pedals, that are allowed to travel in dedicated lanes with bicycles or where safe, share sidewalks. This is already allowed in Arizona. (See below.) Visitors and locals could would rent the vehicles, pull over when they wanted to take pictures, and get preferred parking in uptown where charging stations would be installed. Trailhead parking lots would be able to accommodate more vehicles because these vehicles require less parking space.

4) New Freeway Signage 

Traditionally little towns have wanted traffic to run right down Main Street in the hopes some will stop and spend money at local businesses. But what they get instead is traffic, noise and an unpleasant pedestrian experience.  VOC should aim to provide more to offer to bring people here but also shunt through-traffic headed to West Sedona around VOC.
We understand business owners have some concerns about losing business. We need data. Is it possible to do a traffic study to determine how many non-local vehicles actually stop in town? Perhaps signage on I-17 prior to 260 could indicate attractions best accessed via Exit 298. Signage at 260 might indicate, “Deliveries and events to West Sedona, this exit. Scenic highway access to Village of Oak Creek and Uptown, take exit 298.” On I-17 south of Camp Verde, a congestion management sign could indicate alternative travel times to West Sedona and Uptown via 260 and 179 (as recommended by a ADOT regional traffic study.)
It would also be helpful to have a sign indicating current travel times to West Sedona and Uptown via different routes so that all drivers would know when it made more sense to go via Cottonwood or Beaverhead Flat Road than via Highway 179.

5) ‘Visit Sedona’ App and Coordinated Tours with informational hub and park-and-ride at the freeway. 

We could do a better job of integrating the various venues and tour companies. A tourist-focused app could route visitors to the ideal routes, venues and tours. What if visitors could book online a collection of tours that were then served with integrated transportation? Finished with your Pink Jeep tour? Hop on the next Winery Shuttle or go check out the timeshares. Routes could be planned dynamically based on online registrations. ADOT recognizes a need to update the I-17 overpass. What if the I-17 exit to Highway 179 or the Rest Stop just to the south became an informational gateway to Sedona and surrounding archeological sites? It also could be a place to pick up pre-planned tours. It might also be a location for arts-and-crafts tents and food carts. It could also be a place for residents to coordinate outbound carpooling from Flagstaff and Sedona to Phoenix, Costco/Trader Joes, etc.

Image credits

Monday, March 14, 2016

4 Principles for Full Sustainability

Thanks to groundbreaking work by scientists associated with The Natural Step, we know what a fully sustainable society must do: meet four simple principles. 

How we do it is up to us, but based on hard science, we won’t be sustainable until we meet these four rules.

It’s as if we made four design mistakes in the design of modern society and if we fix those, our most pressing problems vanish. Individuals, businesses and governments are using these principles to measure their progress.

Take a piece of paper and list the top five worries you have for your kids and grandkids. Are they social, environmental and/or economic? Now see if they fall under any of these principles. We just have to stop breaking these four rules (adapted from the Natural Step’s ‘system conditions’.)

1. Don't MOVE materials from the earth’s crust into nature.

Based on the first Law of Thermodynamics, matter cannot be created or destroyed. So when we take matter from deep inside the earth’s crust that has been hidden there for billions of years, (eg, metal, minerals and especially hydrocarbons) faster than nature can redeposit it, those materials build up in nature. Jerome and the surrounding area is contaminated by mining and its by-products. And climate change is largely a result of combustion engines moving hydrocarbons from deep inside the earth into the air.
What you can do: You already know the drill: drive less, walk/bike/carpool more. Replace lights with LEDs. Choose Energy Star appliances.

You can also generate your own electricity. We are already seeing a sea-change toward solar power. According to Arizona Goes Solar, here’s how our communities compare. To put this into perspective, most households in the US use just under 11,000 kWh per year. (Source)

As more electric cars come on line, we can drive on the power of the sun.

2. Don't MAKE materials that nature can’t handle.

Industry makes tens of thousands of chemicals, and many are not easy for nature to break down. Think of DDT. Thanks to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, entropy, everything spreads. So DDT —which may have been used in Mexico—affected eagles in Alaska.

But this principle also applies to organic materials. Hog farms that create more biodegradable waste than the local land can absorb, so the nitrogen ends up in streams and causes dead-zones in the ocean.

What you can do: One way you can help is to buy organic produce. You not only protect yourself from pesticides, you also protect the farmworkers and the lands downstream. Think about this too when you choose cleaning and personal care products. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients or eat them, you may want to investigate. You can see how your products compare on the Environmental Working Group’s site:

3. Don't TAKE from nature faster than it can regenerate. 

Through development, pollution and genetic manipulation, we are reducing nature’s productivity. Planting palm oil plantations where rain forest used to be and over-harvesting fisheries both undermine nature’s ability to provide us free services we depend on. In our communities, we are still drawing down aquifers faster than they are replenished.

What you can do: When you purchase natural resources or products that come from them, see if there is a sustainably certified option. The Forest Stewardship Council certifies paper and wood products. The Marine Stewardship Council certifies fisheries. Eat lower on the food chain, more fruits and vegetables and less meat. Conserve water.

4. Don't HURT communities’ ability to meet their needs. 

If communities and individuals can’t meet their basic needs in a sustainable fashion, they pursue unsustainable alternatives. Arizona experiences first-hand immigration from Latin America where people struggle to provide for their families and are threatened by drug-related violence and corruption. In Phoenix, kids who don’t see a future in their neighborhoods turn to gangs for opportunity and affection.

What you can do: You can help by choosing Fair Trade products like coffee and chocolate. Donate your clothing and household items so lower-income people can benefit from them. Volunteer with non-profits that address issues you care about and fill up your Green Bag for Yavapai Food Council with healthy foods.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Patagonia: a glimpse into the circular economy

Patagonia, not only makes great clothes. It also teaches people how to make them last longer and they own the largest apparel repair facility in North America. They re-sell garments and even offer customers recycling for their completely worn-out items. Welcome to the beginning of the Circular Economy.