Rainfall floods UA; drainage a concern

By Mitra Taj
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Less than a half-inch of rain fell yesterday, but it was enough to create mini rivers and lakes on campus, annoying students with wet feet and soaked pants.

"Look at my pants; drainage isn't working," said Erika Trigoso, a geography graduate student who was riding her bike around campus yesterday.

Grant McCormick, a campus planner who has been working on storm water drainage projects for the past 10 years, said two immediate projects addressing the problem are in the works.

Two different areas of campus under construction will escape flooding problems with the aid of detention basins sunken areas of land where collected water is absorbed and slowly bled out into the street.

These areas include the Arizona Health Sciences Center, where three buildings are being constructed, and the Highland District, where two new residence halls will open next year.

"It's one of those things that we're slowly chipping away at," McCormick said. "We're in a tight spot."

The lack of major storm drains in the city for the UA to drain water into makes the UA campus look a lot like Tucson roadways, he said.

"The university doesn't have a lot of choices because there is nowhere to connect to," he said.

And that frustrates those students with cold, wet feet, who don't see anything being fixed.

"I don't see them doing anything," said Eddie Canessa, a management informations systems senior, who wore sandals yesterday.

He said he tries to look for shallow spots to avoid stepping in the water flowing alongside curbs.

"They could at least put up ramps or something," he said.

When the university's buildings were constructed, water drainage was not kept in mind, McCormick said. Because there is usually no room for detention basins on most parts of campus, the solution to the problem relies on developing new construction projects properly.

"The city is now more proactive with trying to control storm water, too," he said.

Erin Gendron, a psychology and art history senior, wore bright pink rain boots yesterday to avoid wet feet.

"It's a totally worthless system," she said. "It starts raining here and I know I have to go and change what I'm wearing."

The lack of water drainage on campus causes more problems than mere inconvenience for students, McCormick said.

Flowing water poses the risk of spreading contaminants.

Also, stagnant water attracts mosquitoes, and large quantities of water could actually flood some buildings.

"We live in a desert; it's not designed to get rid of water really fast," said John Glueck, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. He described yesterday's rain as "just a little rain shower."

"You could have the best drainage in the world, but if the rate of rain falls that quickly . . . there's not much you can do," he said.

James Riley, associate professor at the department of soil, water and environmental science and organizer for CATCH Water, a committee for the harvesting of water, said he sees the rain as an opportunity to solve other desert-related problems.

"We're in a drought right now; we should do our best to use all the water that we can," he said.

McCormick said Riley has been working with Campus and Facilities Planning at incorporating water harvesting, the storage of water for later use, into future construction projects.

Although water harvesting might be more costly than detaining it, Riley said the university should be setting an example of water conservation for the community.

Both Riley and McCormick said that water conservation efforts would be more of an environmental effort, rather than an immediate solution to the inconvenience of storm water.

According to the Facilities, Design and Construction Web site, storm drains will be added to the east and west sides of the Administration building. The budget is estimated at $100,400.

Today is expected to be slightly cloudy and windy with a slight chance of showers in the morning. Highs are expected to reach 50 to 60 degrees with lows of 35 to 40 degrees.