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(Phoenix, Ariz.—June 26, 2012) The Santa Cruz River was honored today as the fourth “River of the Month” in a year-long series celebrating Arizona’s centennial year. Five conservation groups are working to raise awareness about rivers in Arizona, a state not often thought of for its river resources.
The River of the Month series profiles one of Arizona’s rivers each month, detailing the ecology, geology, use and threats to the river. It also encourages people to get involved by joining a local watershed group or by communicating with elected officials about the value of the state’s water resources. The series is produced by Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, Sonoran Institute, and Western Resource Advocates. The first River of the Month featured the Colorado River, the second profile focused on the Salt River, the third on the Little Colorado River, and today’s profile features the Santa Cruz River.
The 210-mile Santa Cruz originates in the San Rafael Valley of southeastern Arizona, where it flows south through one of the last remaining expanses of a unique grassland ecosystem, interspersed with oak woodlands. By the time it crosses into Mexico, 15 miles south of its headwaters, the river supports abundant streamside vegetation surrounded by mesquite bosques (forests). The river’s north-south orientation forms an important flyway for migratory birds and bats, and its lush vegetation, in contrast to the surrounding desert, allows some subtropical species to extend their ranges north from Mexico into Arizona—including species such as jaguars and ocelots. Efforts are underway to protect habitat for these endangered cats on both sides of the border.
“Although it is highly imperiled, the preservation of the river’s remaining resources has motivated people with diverse priorities to transcend their differences in order to protect and restore the Santa Cruz,” say the five conservation organizations in the Santa Cruz River profile.
Diverse efforts to restore and protect the Santa Cruz include promotion of water harvesting and other practices to reduce groundwater pumping, community conservation programs in Mexico, monitoring of water quality and river health, habitat and stream restoration projects, and Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, which guides urban development away from sensitive river ecosystems and restores river habitat.