The Santa Cruz River Heritage Project-Frequently Asked Questions

panoramic of Santa Cruz River by downtown Tucson

(updated July 2, 2019)

Is water going to be flowing in the river all the time?

Reclaimed water discharged into the channel may be reduced during peak demand on the reclaimed water system in June and July. It may also be reduced or turned off when Pima County or others are performing maintenance of the river channel in that area.

How much water is being released, and how far will it flow?

The project is permitted to run up to 1,950 gallons per minute (gpm), which totals about 2.8 million gallons per day, or 3,150 acre feet per year. We will adjust the flow based on weather and river conditions, seasonal demands on the rest of the Reclaimed Water System, and how far the surface flow runs downstream. At this stage, our goal is to manage the surface flow so it extends approximately to between Cushing and Congress Streets.

Is the water safe to touch?

The water that Tucson Water releases into the river is permitted as Class A Reclaimed Water by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. As such, it is rated for recreational uses that involve partial body contact--like wading, but not for drinking or swimming. Swimming should be avoided because of the potential for ingestion and contact with the eyes/ears/nose. Reclaimed water has been safely used to irrigate turf at schools, parks, and golf courses (and discharged at other locations along the Santa Cruz River) for decades. No health-related problems have been linked with the use of reclaimed water, in Arizona or across the country.

Once the water reaches the riverbed, it becomes river water that is exposed to everything found in the river channel, such as waste from wild and domestic animals and urban stormwater runoff. 

Those who enter the river channel should observe precautions related to flooding, especially during the summer monsoon season. Dangerous floods can happen in the Santa Cruz River even when it is not raining nearby.

Is this going to lead to more mosquitos in the downtown area?

No. This project is designed to keep water flowing in the river and not stagnating, with the goal of no breeding opportunities for mosquitos. Ongoing monitoring is planned and abatement measures for mosquito control will be taken if necessary. Tucson Water has effectively managed mosquitoes at the Sweetwater Wetlands for many years.

What will happen to the riparian habitat that has been created by the current effluent discharges into the Santa Cruz at Agua Nueva Wastewater Reclamation Facility? Will this habitat go away?

Effluent will continue to be discharged at Agua Nueva (near Ruthrauff Road); only a portion of the flow is being relocated upstream to downtown. There will be a small reduction in how far downstream past Cortaro Road the current active flow will reach on a regular basis. Continuous monitoring of the riparian habitat downstream of Agua Nueva will continue.

Will vegetation in and around the river be managed?

Vegetation will be managed appropriately by Tucson Water and Pima County Flood Control District to minimize flood risk and create healthy riparian habitat for native species.

Will this project negatively affect Santa Cruz River infrastructure?

Tucson Water is working with the Pima County Regional Flood Control District (PCRFCD) to ensure that any discharges to the Santa Cruz River in the downtown area do not adversely impact existing channel characteristics. Unmanaged growth of certain types of vegetation (e.g., non-native species) in the Santa Cruz River can result in adverse impacts to the hydraulic capacity of the river, as well as threaten the viability of structures such as bridges that cross the river. Tucson Water will work with PCRFCD as well as other stakeholders to assist in providing an environment conducive to riparian restoration.

Will water rates for customers be raised?

No, Tucson Water is using existing pipeline infrastructure making this project extremely cost effective.