Paul's Note - September 10, 2021

I often mention climate change in my notes to constituents, and each time I do, someone writes to me taking issue with my bringing it up. Sometimes, it’s to deny that there is climate change; sometimes it’s someone who is mad that I mentioned it at all. 

I got a few responses like this to my latest posting. A few wanted to know why I would want to talk about climate change at all when there are things like the poor condition of our roads to talk about. 

Climate change Is the biggest issue confronting us as not just a city, but a species. I’m not going to ignore it and neither should you. That said, few issues confronting us happen in isolation and our ability to maintain our streets is affected by the results of climate change. 

There is the basic issue of our streets being weakened by the sheet flooding that is becoming more of an problem as storms get more intense. Asphalt is used to bind together pebbles and sand. When water washes across a road, some of that sand goes with it and the integrity of the surface deteriorates. There are also the more dramatic cases where flooding will wash away the base layer of the road underneath the blacktop, leaving potholes and washed away road shoulders. 

There is also a second issue and that has to do with budgeting. Our Department of Transportation and Mobility sets aside money for anticipated storm damage, but when a particularly wet year comes along (2021, for instance), money has to be moved to handle those more urgent repairs caused by flooding. This doesn’t mean that a planned project in your neighborhood gets cancelled, but it limits DOTM’s ability to budget for more projects. 

This year, for example, DOTM is finding it necessary to do repair and reinforcement projects on three major washes because of damage caused by the monsoon season. One of those is a big one for those of us in Ward 2: the Pantano. There are parts of the bank that are so washed out that sewer infrastructure is exposed, and there are needs to reinforce the banks to ensure the future safety of roads and bridges. Diana Alarcon, our DOTM director, has been working with the Pima County Flood Control District and FEMA to get these issues solved. Even with that cooperation, it still will be a major outlay of resources from the City of Tucson. 

Keep in mind how road work is funded: through our share of the gas tax and sales tax revenue. In some cases, we have bond money. What you might have noticed is that none of those sources I mentioned deliver more money if there is more rain and flooding. 

My staff had a chat with Ms. Alarcon this week about what she anticipates in the coming years. She’s seeing reports of another stormy year next year. Other sources confirm this. C2ES, a council of major corporations concerned about climate change, says that warmer sea temperatures could produce hurricanes with 10-15 percent more rain. Not every storm that hits Tucson during monsoon season are hurricane remnants, of course, but it tells you a lot about what we’ll get from Pacific storm systems. 

When I talk about climate change it’s not because I’m trying to deflect from the day-to-day issues that affect my constituents on a daily basis, it’s because climate change touches on almost every issue my colleagues and I deal with.