When You and the River Meet

Numbers and dots on a map do not say everything about the river’s value. The community’s experiences and stories are equally important.
—Amanda Smith, Program Coordinator

Over the course of several months, I spent time along the river getting to know seven uniquely voiced people: a hiker, an educator, a life-long local, a National Park Service chief, a wastewater treatment plant operations manager, a politician, and a rancher. They told me their stories about how they came to know the river, what it means to them, and why they feel it is essential to protect. It might sound cliché, but my biggest take away was that this river connects many people through time and through space.

It is clear that when people see and experience flowing water in the Santa Cruz River something happens. Whether it’s emotional or thought-provoking, the intangible response in our hearts changes perceptions and has helped shape the river’s strongest supporters and allies.

Over the years, the Sonoran Institute team has created reports with charts, data tables, maps and beautiful photos to show the river’s health and track ecological changes in our Living River reports, and we’ve published insights from community members. While this data has helped inform how our water resources are managed and identify areas for future research, numbers and dots on a map do not say everything about the river’s value. The community’s experiences and stories are equally important.

Conservation, restoration, and protection of this river will take many people working together—from both sides of the border. And, that’s exactly what we intend to do—ensure that the Santa Cruz River flows and thrives.

  • Park chief, Roger, and Tucson resident and hiker, Elise, describe a sense of wonder and say that few places in Arizona compare to the flowing Santa Cruz River.
  • Guillermo and John work hard to keep the river clean and the communities around it vibrant and prosperous. They understand the politics and infrastructure on the river and know that the region’s vitality depends on collaboration and binational agreements.
  • Connie, a passionate community organizer, founded Corridor Keepers which allows students and local families to connect with the Santa Cruz River in ways they haven’t before.
  • Long-time residents Tony and Diana had very different childhoods, but the river was a central feature. Their relationship to the river has changed as water becomes scarcer.

We will share the first seven stories here in the coming weeks, and welcome additions of voices we haven’t heard from. You can contact us with your tips!

Blog series by Amanda Smith, Program Coordinator; copy-editing services donated generously by Nicole Cloutier.