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Santa Cruz River Streamsheds

Priority Restoration Actions

  1. Implement City of Tucson's Santa Cruz River Heritage Project to recharge treated effluent to benefit riparian forest restoration and groundwater level restoration near downtown Tucson.
  2. Continue to engage City of Tucson, Pima County, Tohono O'Odham Nation, and others to collaborate on coordinating groundwater recharge of Central Arizona Project waters to restore the Santa Cruz River and the West Branch of the Santa Cruz from the Great Mesquite Forest and downstream to downtown Tucson at Sentinal Peak.
  3. Continue to enhance recharge of urban enhanced runoff through implementing on-site water harvesting earthworks, green stormwater infrastructure features along streets or in parks, and arroyos and continue working with Pima County Regional Flood Control District to restore floodplains.
  4. Extend water conservation incentives to all groundwater users either through A) Tucson Water or B) Arizona state programming to reduce groundwater demand and increase long-term groundwater sustainability. 
  5. Support acquisition and enhancement of flood-prone and critical riparian habitat lands for river restoration purposes.

Fauna of Interest: longfin dace, Gila chub, and Gila topminnow, southwestern willow flycatcher, yellow billed cuckoo, gray hawk, zone-tailed hawk and blackhawk, Sonoran mud turtles, lowland leopard frog, Mexican gartersnake, Bell’s vireo, Abert’s towhee, Lucy’s warbler, common yellowthroat, yellow-rumped warbler

Learn more about each streamshed:

Canoa Streamshed

Restoration Goal: A mix of seasonal and year-round river flow along the Santa Cruz River supported by restored groundwater maintained at or within 10 feet below channel bed surface. A functional floodplain supports a mesquite bosque with pockets of cottonwood riparian trees interspersed with sacaton grass along channel banks.
Current Status: Groundwater levels have been declining due to being overdrafted - more groundwater is pumped than recharged - for mining, agriculture, and municipal use.
Historical Interest: The Canoa streamshed of the Santa Cruz River is home to Canoa Ranch, the Canoa Land Grant, an historic ranch, and extends from the Sopori Wash near the Santa Cruz County line, north to Box Canyon Wash just north of Duval Mine Road. The Santa Cruz River flows approximately 25 miles with approximately 10 of those miles unconstrained by either farming or development. Historically this stretch of the river was most likely intermittent wet with extensive riparian woodlands supported by shallow groundwater. Farming and later mining dropped the water table to its current levels beyond what can support riparian woodlands.

Great Mesquite Forest Streamshed

Restoration Goal: A mix of seasonal and year-round river flow along the Santa Cruz River supported by restored groundwater maintained at or within 10 feet below channel bed surface. A functional floodplain supports a mesquite bosque with pockets of cottonwood riparian trees interspersed with sacaton grass along channel banks.
Current Status: Groundwater levels have been steadily rising and are estimated to be within 30 feet of the channel bed in some areas. Recharge of Central Arizona Project water by the San Xavier District (Arroyos Project and a restoration site along the Santa Cruz River) along with recharge at Pima Mine Road have aided in the recovery of groundwater levels. Additional recharge is planned to be delivered to FICO's pecan orchards in coming years. Tucson Water is expanding their Santa Cruz well field to pump recharged water for supplying water to southeastern Tucson.   
Historical Interest: This section of the Santa Cruz River was historically well known for the extensive mesquite bosque known to wildlife enthusiasts and scientists for the diversity of birds. Mesquite trees were reported to reach over 60 feet tall with immense trunks. The Santa Cruz River was shallow and braided across a vast floodplain consisting of the mesquite bosque. The Great Mesquite Forest was slowly diminished by fuelwood cutting through to the early 1900s and ultimately died by the 1940s due to over pumping of groundwater. Revival of the Great Mesquite Forest could benefit the Tucson basin significantly from increased eco-tourism to reducing flood impacts in downtown Tucson.
Cultural Interests: San Xavier del Bac Mission, San Xavier Co-op Farm

Paseo de las Iglesias

Restoration Goal: A mix of seasonal and year-round river flow along the Santa Cruz River supported by restored groundwater maintained at or within 10 feet below channel bed surface. A functional floodplain supports a mesquite bosque with pockets of cottonwood riparian trees interspersed with sacaton grass along channel banks.
Current Status: Groundwater levels have been steadily rising 3-5ft per year. The downstream portion of this streamshed is undergoing treatment for a groundwater pollution plume down gradiant from the airport area. These pollutants will need to be remediated before groundwater levels have the chance to fully recover. 
Historical Interest: This section of the Santa Cruz River was historically well known for the extensive mesquite bosque known to wildlife enthusiasts and scientists for the diversity of birds. Mesquite trees were reported to reach over 60 feet tall with immense trunks. The Santa Cruz River was shallow and braided across a vast floodplain consisting of the mesquite bosque. The Great Mesquite Forest was slowly diminished by fuelwood cutting through to the early 1900s and ultimately died by the 1940s due to over pumping of groundwater. Revival of the Great Mesquite Forest could benefit the Tucson basin significantly from increased eco-tourism to reducing flood impacts in downtown Tucson.
Specific Fauna of Interest: Couch’s spadefoot toad, Mexican spadefoot, Red-spotted toad, Great plains toad, Sonoran Desert toad, Great plains narrow-mouthed toad
Cultural Interests: Kino Environmental Restoration Project, Paseo de las Iglesias Restoration Project, Historic West Branch of the Santa Cruz River, Las Milpitas Community Food Bank Farm, Santa Cruz River Multi-Use Loop

Sentinel Peak

Restoration Goal: Seasonal surface flows with supporting groundwater levels recovered and maintained with seasonal variation of no more than 30 feet below channel bed surface. Year-round flow may be supported by treated effluent outfalls located near 29th and Cushing streets as part of City of Tucson's Santa Cruz River Heritage Project.
Current Status: Groundwater levels have been increasing for the past 17 years by 5 - 15 ft. Flow is currently defined as ephemeral (flows only due to storm events). Tucson Water plans to initiate release of treated effluent at 29th St by May 2019 which will help to recharge groundwater and provide a segment of year-round flow near to the effluent outfall. (updated November 2018)
Historical Interest: The Sentinel Peak Streamshed contained an “extremely large cienega …”  at the base of Sentinel Peak (Requiem for the Santa Cruz, pg. 50). It is also  in the heart of Tucson from Silverlake to Congress and was the go to place in the late 1800s for recreation, irrigation water, farm stands etc. The area contained Silver Lake and Warner’s Lake both built in the 1880s to provide a supply of water for mills but are served as recreation areas. In the late 1800s more land was being purchased for farming downstream of this streamshed and more and more irrigation ditches were being developed to bring water to these parcels. This was a very contentious time as water rights were unsolved and power struggles ensued. Then the floods of the late 1880s hit and many of these ditches were turned into arroyos with headcuts cutting up the river and lowering the water table.
Specific Fauna of Interest: Couch’s spadefoot toad, Mexican spadefoot, Red-spotted toad, Great plains toad, Sonoran Desert toad, Great plains narrow-mouthed toad
Cultural Interests: This area contains some of the most underserved communities in the basin, however, is going through a period of economic and cultural revitalization and facing gentrification issues.

Arroyo Chico

Restoration Goal: Recover supporting groundwater levels and maintain with seasonal variation of no more than 30 feet below channel bed surface.
Current Status: Groundwater levels are stable since Tucson Waters Central Well-field was retired. Flow is currently defined as ephemeral (flows only due to storm events).
Historical Interest: Arroyo Chico and associated washes drain some of the oldest neighborhoods in Tucson, and are cemented or are streets throughout a large majority of this streamshed. Historic landfills located in relic floodplains exist from the 1940-1960s time period as well as historic groundwater contamination plumes will both make it costly to restore groundwater through this section of the river.
Cultural Interest: University of Arizona, Reid Park and Zoo

Sweetwater

Restoration Goal: Recover supporting groundwater levels and maintain seasonal variation of no more than 30 feet below channel bed surface.
Current Status: Groundwater levels continue to decline by 5-20 ft per year due to continued pumping along and near to the river corridor. Flow is currently defined as ephemeral (flows only due to storm events). (updated February 2018)
Historical Interest: This is the streamshed contains almost three miles of Santa Cruz River and its contributing drainages include Camino de Oeste, Silver Croft, Painted Hills, Greasewood Washes, and parts of Sweetwater Wash, all draining the east side of the Tucson Mountains, and Flowing Wells Wash that drains the heavily developed areas between the river and Tucson Blvd, and Prince Road and Speedway Blvd. This streamshed also contains the Sweetwater Wetlands, a water treatment facility using natural infiltration to store water for times of high demand on their reclaimed water system, that also provides approximately 20 acres of wildlife habitat.
Cultural Interest: Sweetwater Wetlands, Tucson Mountain Park

Tres Rios

Restoration Goal: Enhance the riparian habitat by managing the vegetative growth resulting from the outfall of treated effluent into the Santa Cruz River and maintain seasonal to year round surface flows. Supporting groundwater levels are recovered and maintained with seasonal variation of no more than 30 feet below channel bed surface.
Current Status: This section of the Santa Cruz River has surface flow due to treated effluent flowing from the Agua Nueva Wastewater Treatment Plant. Groundwater levels have continued to decline, 30-40 ft the past 17 years due to continued pumping along and near to the river corridor and drought. Flow is currently dependent on effluent discharge into the river. (updated November 2018)
Historical Interest: This streamshed contains 5.5 miles of the Santa Cruz River, 3 miles of the Rillito, and 1.5 miles of the CDO. In the 1936 NRCS aerial images this area was completely devoted to farming except in the active channel. The floodplain while constrained by farmland in many areas is still quite wide compared to present day conditions and the active channel has not cut down like upstream sections.
Specific Fauna of Interest: Since the upgrades to the effluent treatment facility native and endangered Gila topminnow fish have reappeared in this section of the Santa Cruz River.
Cultural interests: The Loop runs along the Santa Cruz River, Rillito, and Canada del Oro creek serving as a major recreational hub connecting different parts of the basin.

Cortaro Narrows

Restoration Goal: Enhance the riparian habitat by managing the vegetative growth resulting from the outfall of treated effluent into the Santa Cruz River and maintain seasonal to year round surface flows. Supporting groundwater levels are recovered and maintained with seasonal variation of no more than 50 feet below channel bed surface.
Current Status: This section of the Santa Cruz River has surface flow due to treated effluent flowing from the Ina Road Wastewater Treatment Plant. Groundwater levels have continued to decline, ~30 ft the past 17 years due to continued pumping along and near to the river corridor and drought. Flow is currently dependent on effluent discharge into the river. (updated November 2018)
Historical Interest: The Santa Cruz River in this streamshed appears to be the most constrained by development, with limited opportunities for floodplain reconnection. Much of the streamshed falls within the Town of Marana who has been less interested in conservation activities around the Santa Cruz River.
Cultural Interest: The Loop runs along the Santa Cruz River serving local residents as well as a recreational link connecting different parts of the basin.

Upper Marana Flats

Restoration Goal: Maintaining and enhancing a broad floodplain with braided flow channels carrying seasonal effluent flows and stormwater flows which can wind through desert willow and mesquite forests. Supporting groundwater levels recovered and maintained with seasonal variation of no more than 50 feet below channel bed surface to support mesquite forests.
Current Status: This section of the Santa Cruz River has seasonal surface flow due to treated effluent flowing from the Ina Road Wastewater Treatment Plant. Groundwater level trends are mixed where the upstream portion continues to decline, 5-30 ft the past 17 years and the downstream portion has begun to recover 5-30 ft in the same time period. Flow is currently dependent on effluent discharge into the river. (updated November 2018)
Historical Interest: This streamshed includes the SCR from Avra Valley Road to just north of Tangerine Road, which is constrained by farming and roads but not soil cement, in addition PC only owns small parcels with the river with farmers and AZ State Land department owning the majority. A rich and stable riparian forest was created and is maintained due to a diversion of a portion of the effluent and river flow to the High Plains Recharge Project just north of Marana Regional Airport. This diversion supports Goodding’s willow.

Lower Marana Flats

Restoration Goal: Manage the river and floodplain to support wide braided flow channels winding through desert willow and mesquite forests 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 recover by 10-40 ft in 17 years, however are still at least 150 feet below channel bed. (updated November 2018)
Historical Interest: This streamshed includes the SCR from just north of Tangerine Road almost to the county line, which is constrained by farming and roads but not soil cement, in addition PC only owns small parcels with the river with farmers and AZ State Land department owning the majority.