Welcome to the Santa Cruz River, the birthplace of Tucson, Arizona

We envision Arizona’s first Urban National Wildlife Refuge
along a stretch of the Santa Cruz River

For over 12,000 years, the Santa Cruz River and its underlying aquifer supplied crucial water to humans and wildlife from the Tucson Basin to the current U.S./Mexico border. However, the arid climate and excessive use depleted the aquifer and dried up the river. From the 1970s until recently, wastewater effluent had been the water source for two stretches of river, but it was of poor quality. Recent efforts to revitalize the river led to significant upgrades in wastewater treatment plants, bringing back clean water and supporting plant and animal life. The Santa Cruz River can be restored with ongoing dedication and support, providing an essential resource for people, agriculture, and nature in the region’s arid landscape.

Together, we can help heal the river and designate the Santa Cruz River Urban National Wildlife Refuge.

The Santa Cruz River is the lifeblood of the region

Since time immemorial, these flowing waters have sustained people, wildlife, and cultures. These are just a few values that the proposed urban national wildlife refuge would uplift:


Without the Santa Cruz River, there would be no Tucson. It's home to the original village of the O'odham and tribal land of the Pascua Yaqui. The region is a nexus of Tribal, Mexican, Anglo, Black, Spanish Colonial, and military influences that have created a vibrant and diverse culture.

Community & Culture


The Santa Cruz River is a vital migration corridor and north–south flyway for hundreds of species of birds and other native wildlife, such as bobcats and javelinas. The endangered Gila topminnow and Longfin Dace are swimming once again after decades of absence.

Wildlife & Endangered Species


There are potential co-stewardship opportunities within the proposed refuge between Tribes and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, especially at the southern boundary. In 2023, 10 acres of ancestral land adjacent to the Santa Cruz River were returned to the Tohono O’odham Nation. The O’odham’s ancestors, the Hohokam as well as the Early Agricultural People, called the area home for thousands of years.

Tribal Co-stewardship


The mountains and valleys that cradle Tucson are some of the most biodiverse lands in the U.S. They include the geologically distinct Sky Islands. The Santa Cruz is a perennial source of water in an otherwise arid desert, and native species rely on these waters for food, habitat, and drinking water.

Biodiversity & Climate Adaptation


In 2021, the City of Tucson and Pima County approved a permanent—and first-ever—allocation of treated wastewater to a stretch of the Santa Cruz, creating over 25 miles of vibrant habitat that has been foundational to the recovery of vegetation, wildlife, insect, and migratory bird species.

Flowing Waters


Tucson's first urban national wildlife refuge would improve equitable access to the outdoors by protecting dwindling green spaces that support the community's health and well-being, and foster land stewardship through restoration, recreation, and education.

Equitable Access

“This area has been continually inhabited by humans for thousands of years, and in large part because of the Santa Cruz River. We owe it to our ancestors and future generations to tell that story and protect what was a life-giver to those who settled here.” – Maurice

Land Acknowledgement

We respectfully acknowledge that the Santa Cruz River flows through the land and territories of Indigenous peoples. Today, Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized tribes, with the Santa Cruz Watershed being home to the O’odham and the Yaqui, whose relationships with the land and river continue to this day.