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Rest of U.S. Can Learn From Desert City About Water Management, Green Infrastructure, Research Finds

By Samantha Watters

Grassroots efforts have driven policy changes on water management in Tucson, Ariz., a growing urban area in the middle of a desert, according to a study from a University of Maryland researcher and partners published recently in the Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning.

Tucson provides a peek into the future of green infrastructure (GI)—any installation that manages water or environmental factors, such as rain gardens, storm water basins or urban tree cover—both in the Southwest and across the country.

“We are looking at the functionality of GI, its practical benefits, but also how governance and learning around GI changes, inhibits or helps adoption,” said Mitchell Pavao-Zuckerman, assistant professor in Environmental Science and Technology and a co-author of the paper.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and conducted with the University of Arizona, the Udall Center for Public Policy in Tucson and the University of Virginia.

Tucson provides a compelling look at how GI emerges in places that don’t necessarily have water quality mandates—prominent in Maryland and areas surrounding the Chesapeake Bay. In Tucson and much of the Southwest, water sustainability and conservation are often the leading concerns.

The rest of the country can learn from the holistic concept of water management known as “water ethics” prevalent in Tucson, as well as the necessity of thinking about GI across all scales—from individual and neighborhood adoption to the city level. Additionally, there is a need for more equitable dispersion of GI to ensure environmental and social justice, the authors said.

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