For most of its course through the town of Marana, the Santa Cruz River is usually little more than sewage plant waste water trickling through a brown, cement-sided scar of a channel.
At other times the river can rampage through the town leaving death and destruction in its wake, as it did in 1983 when the river jumped it's banks after a week of steady rains. Three people died and hundreds lost their homes in the flood.
But thanks to two river revitalization plans recently advanced by the town, help is in store for the once lush riparian area that runs the length of Marana and which has played a vital role in its agricultural history and growth.
The Marana Town Council unanimously approved a measure at its Sept.18 meeting for participation in planning the Tres Rios del Norte Project, an ambitious riparian and water quality redevelopment plan that would revitalize 18 miles of the the Santa Cruz and benefit the Rillito Creek and the Canada del Oro Wash that flow into the river near Orange Grove Road.
At its Sept. 26 meeting, the Marana Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously reccomended adoption of the Santa Cruz River Corridor Plan, a detailed planning and policy document that sets guidelines for restoring the river and providing recreational facilities, wildlife corridors, flood protection and other benefits to the community.
"The river is an asset to the community as a whole," said Marana Assistant Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat. "These are plans we've been working on for several years that are just starting to approach fruition."
Tres Rios del Norte, Spanish for the the Three Rivers of the North, is a multi-juristictional plan between Marana, the city of Tucson, Pima County and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers.
The town council's approval last month of the Tres Rios del Norte Feasibility Study laid the groundwork for planning the revitalization of the river from Prince Road on the south to Sanders Road on the north.
Planning for the project, which will include citizen participation, is anticipated to be completed in December 2004.
Initial cost projections by the Corps of Engineers put the price tag for the planning stage at more than $5 million. Under a cost sharing agreement, the federal government will foot half that cost, with the regional jurisdictions picking up the other half.
Marana is expected to contribute $955,101, Pima County $1.1 million and the city of Tucson anticipates contributing $828,626, according to the agreement.
The overall cost of the river revitalization has yet to be determined.
Tucson has only a short stretch of the Tres Rios portion of the river in the city limits, but owns most of the effluent that flows in the river and hopes to build water recharge projects in the area, said Marana Development Services Director Jim DeGrood.
Pima County intends to incorporate the Tres Rios del Norte Project into its Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, which seeks to preserve wildlife habitat and open space, DeGrood said.
Tres Rios will augment other Santa Cruz revitalization plans further south that include Tucson's $757 million Rio Nuevo project which is intended to reinvigorate the city's downtown area, and the Paseo del Inglesia project, which would restore the river from San Xavier Mission in the Tohono O'odham Nation to downtown Tucson.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE TRES RIOS PROJECT THAT WOULD AFFECT MARANA INCLUDE:
Developing a water supply to increase the river's flow in order to create wetlands and cienegas.
The additional water would provide a perennial flow and would be required to nourish the Santa Cruz region back into a riparian state. Water would most likely be provided by effluent from the two sewage treatment plants at Ina and Roger roads and by diverting more storm runoff into the channel.
Improving the physical and chemical conditions of the existing effluent flow in the river.
Fortifying the river with flood protection in areas where bank improvements and levees have not been built, and reinforcing the existing bank protection.
Creating a recreation corridor by incorporating trails into the plan.
Creating mesquite bosques and cottonwood and willow groves along the river that will facilitate wildlife corridors.
Cleanup of debris and reshaping the river bank and channel where manmade changes have occurred.
Incorporating mosquito control measures.
Marana's Santa Cruz River Corridor Plan approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission is an ammendment to the town's General Plan that sets comprehensive goals for land use, transportation and other issues related to the river and and surrounding area.
"It gives us policy direction and provides for low-to-no growth in the river and the floodway," said Reuwsaat.
The plan was two years in the making and includes the Tres Rios Project, citizen input from three community meetings, and direction from the Marana Town Council and planning staff, Reuwsaat said.
The plan is expected to be forwarded to the town council for final approval later this month, Reuwsaat said.
Mark Meyers, a water resources and environmental consultant for the town who coordinated the study, said he believed the plan was the "seed" that led to the Marana's participation in Tres Rios.
"The study itself helped put Marana on the map for the other jurisdictions. I'm not sure Pima County or the federal government would have included us in the Tres Rios project if it wasn't for the fact that we were seriously planning for the river's uses," Meyers said.
THE CORRIDOR PLAN INCLUDES:
Planning for development of the town's trails, recreation facilities and cultural resources. The plans include the Santa Cruz River Trail to be connected to the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, which, when completed, is expected to stretch from Sinaloa, Mexico to San Francisco, and a 48.8-acre park along the river between Silverbell and Cortaro roads;
Incorporating transportation improvements scheduled for the river area into the corridor plan, such as the Cortaro Road bridge expansion now underway and the construction of the Linda Vista-Interstate 10 Interchange scheduled to begin in 2006.
Setting policy and implementing plans for the future use of the sand and gravel operations that line the Santa Cruz River. The plan would have no effect on current operations.
Establishing utility corridors and preventing future installation of power lines over the river when possible.