June 24, 2019 / Modified jun 25, 2019 12:27 p.m.

Tucson reviving a stretch of the Santa Cruz River

Tucson Water is putting water back into the Santa Cruz River near downtown.

A Mountain Santa Cruz "A" Mountain, or Sentinel Peak, stands above the dry riverbed of the Santa Cruz River near Tucson's birthplace. Feb. 22, 2018.
Sara Hammond, AZPM

Starting Monday, June 24, Tucson Water will begin the Santa Cruz River Heritage Project, reviving a historic stretch of the river near downtown Tucson.

Tucson Water will put as much as 2.8 million gallons of reclaimed water daily into a stretch of the river south of Sentinel Peak, which was of major importance to earlier residents and area tribes. The city and county already release treated water into a lower stretch of the river near Marana.

Santa Cruz Heritage Project Map VIEW LARGER Map of the projected flow of the Santa Cruz River after Tucson Water begins adding reclaimed water.
Courtesy Tucson Water

James McAdam, a spokesperson for Tucson Water, said the project has practical benefits.

“We wanted to bring our recharge further upstream to increase our physical control of that water so we’re recharging the aquifer in our actual water service area,” he said. “It just worked out that our reclaimed system had available capacity and the pipes and everything in place in this area.”

But the city was also motivated by environmental benefits that will result from the project as well as complementing nearby cultural sites like the Mission Garden, McAdam said. “Being near the historic flow of the river and wetting a new stretch [is] going to add a lot more habitat for wildlife and more recreational opportunities.”

City hydrologists estimate the water will only flow for a mile or so. But its return to this stretch of the Santa Cruz is being celebrated by several groups, including the Hispanic Access Foundation, Watershed Management Group and Latino faith leaders. The city’s celebration will coincide with the annual El Dia de San Juan Festival, which marks the start of monsoon.

Watch the water return:

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