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Lower Sabino Creek Streamshed

The Goal: To restore year-long creek flow supported by stable groundwater levels. During years of drought, to maintain groundwater levels within 3 feet of the channel.
WMG's Work 

Reviving our desert waterways requires hard science to understand the dynamics at work in the watershed and chart a course for increasing surface flows. Beginning with Sabino Creek, we’ve created a flow budget that analyzes inflow and outflow against a reserve groundwater level, which needs to stay stable to support flow in the creek. 
As part of this stewardship plan we have begun installing water-harvesting and stream restoration features on lands along Sabino Creek to reduce outdoor use of potable water, improve soil health to prevent erosion, and increase infiltration to recharge the shallow groundwater that supports the creek. 

Current Trends 

The shallow groundwater system supporting creek flow and riparian trees is fairly stable along most of Lower Sabino Creek. Groundwater levels downstream of Snyder Rd are slowly recovering each year. However, the lower section of Sabino Creek (below a Pima County Wastewater sewer line crossing the creek is in a highly degraded state. Groundwater levels at this lower section vary both seasonally and annually which impact the ability for cottonwoods, ash, and other riparian trees to become established. In addition, the channel has deeply incised impacting the ability for the channel to replenish aquifers during flood flows. 

Explore the Interactive Map

Explore the Lower Sabino Creek Streamshed on the map below by clicking on various data layers to see where creeks flow, the extent of shallow groundwater areas, and specific restoration priorities by parcel. If you live in the area, you can zoom in and find your home and neighborhood to understand your local hydrology and restoration priorities. To view available data layers, click on the legend icon in the upper left of the map. Then click on the sub-label in the legend or on the map where you are interested in learning more information. Pan or zoom in and out to navigate.

Streamshed Priority Actions

Download Action Map hereOctober 2016 (pdf file)
  • Protect failing grade control structure (rock gabion dam) just upstream of Cloud Road where County sewer main crosses creek.
  • Restore channel bed from sewer main grade control structure downstream to confluence with Tanque Verde Creek using natural channel design strategies.
  • Ensure periodic follow up invasive plant removal treatments along the length of Lower Sabino Creek to prevent Giant reed (Arundo donax) from regaining dominance over native riparian plants.
Annual Flow Budget

Lower Sabino Streamshed Annual Flow Budget, 1984 - 2015 

Lower Sabino Streamshed 2015 Groundwater Demands

Reviving our desert waterways requires hard science to understand the dynamics at work in the watershed and chart a course for increasing surface flows. We’ve created a flow budget that analyzes recharge compared to groundwater demands. A positive balance is required to recover and stabilize groundwater levels to support flow in the creek.

Developed by Catlow Shipek, with input from various partners, the Sabino Creek Flow Budget shows a positive balance most years in recent history. However, if groundwater demands reduce by ~10% (56 acre-feet) during March to July and stormwater infiltration is enhanced by ~ 10% (349 acre-feet) then groundwater levels during dry years and seasons can stabilize to support perennial flow in the lower creek. WMG continues to work with Sabino-area partners and residents to regularly update and distribute a collective stewardship plan to reach this goal. 

Learn More

Streamshed Area: 9.25 sq.miles
Shallow Groundwater Area: 4 sq.miles
Lower Sabino Creek Channel Length: 4 miles

Restoration Targets

Upper reach: USFS boundary downstream to Snyder Road

Current Status: smiley Intermittant-wet (surface flow 60% to 95% of the year); seasonal groundwater fluctuations unknown
Flow Target: Perennial (surface flow >95% of the year)
Groundwater Target: stabilize water level depths to be within 3ft of channel bed throughout year

Middle Reach: Snyder Road to Cloud Road

Current Status: indecision Intermittant-dry (surface flow <60% of the year); seasonal groundwater fluctuations > 3ft
Flow Target: Perennial (surface flow >95% of the year)
Groundwater Target: stabilize water level depths to be within 3ft of channel bed throughout year

Lower Reach: Cloud Road to Tanque Verde Creek confluence

Current Status: indecision Intermittant-dry (surface flow < 60% of the year); seasonal groundwater fluctuations > 10ft
Flow Target: Intermittant-wet (surface flow 60% to 95% of the year)
Groundwater Target: stabilize water level depths to be within 10ft of channel bed throughout year

Studies, Research, and Related Information

Download: Value of Ecosystem Services in Lower Sabino CreekEconomic valuation: In 2016, WMG worked with Seattle-based nonprofit Earth Economics to estimate the economic value of Sabino Creek to the Tucson community. This analysis showed that, by a conservative estimate, Sabino Creek provides $1.4 million – $2.1 million in “ecosystem service” benefits—clean water and air, urban heat island mitigation, outdoor recreation, and flood control—to the local economy each year! When we measure the value of Sabino Creek as we would other community assets, such as a bridge or building, Sabino Creek provides a net value of $146 million – $230 million over a 100-year lifespan! Amazingly, these services are provided to us free of charge if we properly care for the watershed.