Home > River Run Network > Cienega, Rincon Creek, and Pantano Streamsheds

Cienega, Rincon Creek, and Pantano Streamsheds

Priority Restoration Actions

  1. Extend water conservation incentives to groundwater users either through A) Tucson Water for those within Tucson Water service area or B) Arizona state programming to reduce groundwater demand and increase long-term groundwater sustainability.
  2. Address erosional features including gullies and head-cuts along rural roads and throughout the landscape to help slow and infiltrate storm runoff and reduce downstream sediment loads.
  3. Enhance infiltration of stormwater runoff from homes, businesses, and roadways through on-site water harvesting, green stormwater infrastructure features, and arroyo and floodplain restoration.
  4. Support acquisition and enhancement of flood-prone and critical riparian habitat lands for river restoration purposes.
  5. Support National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Pima County in upper watershed restoration planning and activities to support downstream water supply through mountain front and channel recharge.

Fauna of Interest: Fish species: longfin dace, Gila chub, and Gila topminnow (Historical Occurrence of Fish in Pima County, 2000, pg. 23); Bird Species: southwestern willow flycatcher, yellow billed cuckoo, gray hawk, zone-tailed hawk and blackhawk; Herpetofauna: lowland leopard frog, Mexican gartersnake, and desert box turtle

Learn more about each streamshed:


Cienega Streamshed

Restoration Goal: The goals are to protect current flows in Cienega Creek, restore shallow groundwater levels, and heal erosion occurring throughout the watershed. Short term work is focused on tributary drainages and uplands, however ongoing concern is the immediate need to address severe erosion in Cienega Creek sooner rather than later.
Current Status: Shallow groundwater levels are slightly increasing in the Cienega Creek preserve since 2013, deeper groundwater levels have been static between 2010 and 2017 (updated February 2018).
Historical Interest: Historically, perennial surface flows were intermittent throughout the watershed with extensive wetted reaches in the upper and lower watersheds supporting cienega and cottonwood-willow vegetation communities. Arroyo cutting in the early part of the 20th century dewatered many of the cienegas, disconnected the creek from its floodplain, and diminished the extent of perennial flow. Protection of the creek from herbivory has allowed extensive cottonwood-willow recruitment and formation of smaller cienegas. The upper watershed is largely protected through the formation of the Bureau of Land Management’s Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, the middle watershed is protected through Pima County’s acquisition of the Empirita and Bar V Ranches, and the lower watershed is home to Pima County’s Cienega Creek Preserve. 
Specific Fauna of Interest: jaguar, ocelot, beaver, Allen’s big-eared bat, and the Pale Townsend’s big-eared bat
Cultural Interests: The entire length of the creek and the wetter tributaries have heavy concentrations of prehistoric sites including villages and ballcourts, hunting camps, smaller seasonal villages, and others. Historic sites include the Cienega Mescal Stage Stations.

Upper Pantano Streamshed

Restoration Goal: Seasonal (intermittent wet) surface flows with supporting groundwater levels recovered and maintained with seasonal variation of no more than 30 feet below channel bed surface. Vegetation includes groundwater dependent (obligate) riparian plants associated with the confluences of Agua Verde and Rincon Creeks and Atterbury Wash.
Current Status: Groundwater levels continue to decline by ~2 ft per year due to pumping and continued drought. Flow is currently defined as ephemeral (flows only due to storm events). (updated February 2018)
Historical Interest: The Upper Pantano Wash is defined as having Cienega Creek and Agua Verde Creek as its major tributaries, both have intermittent to perennial flow but the Pantano Wash as it moves away from the Rincon Mountains is underlain by very deep valley fill alluvium with no aquatard features to maintain any shallow groundwater. The wash was probably a wide, shallow multi-braided dry wash as it flowed to its confluence with the Tanque Verde where bedrock forced water to the surface from both drainages which supported a extensive wetlands and riparian forests. The majority of the length of the Pantano is no soil cemented with depths up to 16 feet below the surrounding uplands.  

Upper Rincon Creek Streamshed

Restoration Goal: Seasonal (intermittent wet) and perennial surface flows with protection of springs and enhanced mountain front and channel recharge with treatment using one-rock dams and similar structures.
Current Status: Groundwater levels continue to generally decline due to residential pumping and continued drought. Flow is currently defined as ephemeral (flows only due to storm events). Between 1950 and 1990 groundwater elevations rose approximately 25 feet, but between 1995 and 2003 levels fell four feet per year. Levels are shallowest upstream near Modrona Ranger Station ~8 feet below the surface. (updated February 2018)
Historical Interest: Rincon Creek spills down from the Rincon Mountains and through what used to be a large cattle ranch (X9) now mostly split up into low density residential lots. Anecdotal reports of historical presence of beaver have been reported in published materials supported by once perennial creek flow. Pockets of groundwater-dependent riparian vegetation continue to exist.
Cultural Interests: Former trail access to Saguaro National Park is now closed to general public.


Lower Rincon Creek Streamshed  

Restoration Goal: Seasonal (intermittent wet) surface flows with supporting groundwater levels recovered and maintained with seasonal variation of no more than 30 feet below channel bed surface.
Current Status: Groundwater levels continue to generally decline due to residential pumping and continued drought. Flow is currently defined as ephemeral (flows only due to storm events). Between 1950 and 1990 groundwater elevations rose approximately 25 feet, but between 1995 and 2003 levels fell four feet per year. Levels vary from 8 feet below the surface at Modrona Ranger Station to over 300 feet as you move away from the mountain front and the creek and Pantano Wash. Levels near the confluence vary between 80 and 100 feet. (updated February 2018)
Historical Interest: Rincon Creek spills down from the Rincon Mountains and through what used to be a large cattle ranch (X9) now mostly split up into low density residential lots. Anecdotal reports of historical presence of beaver have been reported in published materials supported by once perennial creek flow. Pockets of groundwater-dependent riparian vegetation continue to exist.
Specific Fauna of Interest: Desert box turtle
Cultural Interests: Camino Loma Alta trailhead, Saguaro East National Park

Middle Pantano Streamshed

Restoration Goal: Supporting groundwater levels recovered and maintained with seasonal variation of no more than 30 feet below channel bed surface to support a diverse riparian habitat.
Current Status: Groundwater levels continue to decline by 1-2 ft per year due to continued pumping and drought. Flow is currently defined as ephemeral (flows only due to storm events). (updated February 2018)
Historical Interest: The Pantano Wash is defined as having Cienega Creek and Agua Verde Creek as its major tributaries, both have intermittent to perennial flow but the Pantano Wash as it moves away from the Rincon Mountains is underlain by very deep valley fill alluvium with no aquatard features to maintain shallow groundwater. The wash was probably once a wide, shallow multi-braided dry wash as it flowed to its confluence with the Tanque Verde where bedrock forced water to the surface from both drainages which supported an extensive wetlands and riparian forests. The majority of the length of the Pantano remains natural without soil cemented sides but has downcut with depths up to 16 feet below the surrounding land.


Lower Pantano Streamshed

Restoration Goal:  Supporting groundwater levels recovered and maintained with seasonal variation of no more than 30 feet below channel bed surface to support a diverse riparian habitat.
Current Status: Groundwater levels have rebounded along much of the channel length from 25-50 ft in the last 16 years. However, depth to groundwater is 250-300 ft. Flow is currently defined as ephemeral (flows only due to storm events). (updated February 2018)
Historical Interest: The Pantano Wash is defined as having Cienega Creek and Agua Verde Creek as its major tributaries, both have intermittent to perennial flow but the Pantano Wash as it moves away from the Rincon Mountains is underlain by very deep valley fill alluvium with no aquatard features to maintain any shallow groundwater. The wash was probably a wide, shallow multi-braided dry wash as it flowed to its confluence with the Tanque Verde where bedrock forced water to the surface from both drainages which supported a extensive wetlands and riparian forests. The majority of the length of the Pantano is now soil cemented with depths up to 16 feet below the surrounding uplands. Historically had perennial marsh conditions in the lower Pantano (Historical Occurrence of Fish in Pima County, 2000) 
Cultural interests: Saguaro East National Park - visitor center and access to trails; Access to the Loop - a recreational multi-use path along the Pantano River.

Back to top