An Urban Treasure – the Santa Cruz River

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An Urban Treasure – the Santa Cruz River

Date: 04/25/2024     State: AZ     Issues: Urban Planning, Watersheds, Wild Lands     Partners: Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Trout Unlimited, Tucson Birthplace Open Space Coalition Airport Origin : Tucson, AZ    


Provide press, Pima and Santa Cruz county officials, AZ DEQ, and Tribal members the bird's-eye view of the Santa Cruz River to educate and advocate for a Urban National Wildlife Refuge to safeguard this highly consumed, culturally treasured, and recreationally important river.

We flew over the Santa Cruz River, which originates in the high grasslands near Patagonia, AZ, and the Mexican border. The Santa Cruz River is a jewel of the desert, providing important habitat for fish, reptiles, and birds, and recreational opportunities for many Arizonans living nearby. The river has been a life-sustaining source for more than 12,000 years, supporting some of the oldest communities in North America. The Tohono O’odham Nation and Pascua Yaqui Tribe continue to live in the area today.

In recent years, due to water conservation efforts and restoration projects, perennial flows have returned to a few parts of the Santa Cruz River in greater Tucson. In June 2019, the city of Tucson began releasing treated wastewater daily into the Santa Cruz River bed near West Silverlake Road as part of the Santa Cruz River Heritage Project. This has resulted in renewed perennial flow in an approximately 1-mile stretch near downtown Tucson.

The Sonoran Institute, in partnership with The Wilderness Society, has been working to establish a Santa Cruz River Urban National Wildlife Refuge on the main stem of the Santa Cruz River. The purpose is to celebrate the river's diverse and rich cultural heritage, honor the revitalized river, increase access to nature, and protect this crucial greenspace.

We followed the river from the heart of Tucson, down past pecan plantations and huge copper mines to the Mexico border and city of Nogales where the river once again flows freely. Thank you to our partners for their work to preserve this important space for wildlife and recreational access for the generations to come.

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