Progress Continues on Second Phase of the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Project
Plans for Rio Salado Oeste, an environmental undertaking designed to connect the existing Rio Salado Project with the Tres Rios Project, continue moving ahead as scheduled. The stretch of soon-to-be-revived riverbed extends from 19th Avenue to the confluence of the Salt, Gila and Agua Fria rivers at 83rd Avenue.
According to Karen Williams, Rio Salado project director, improvements will be similar to what has been completed upstream, including restoring native vegetation in the riverbed and adding recreational trails. As well, funding will remain the same, with the federal government paying two-thirds of the cost.
During the March 2006 Special Bond Election, voters approved $5 million for Rio Salado Oeste.
“We feel like we got a pretty good vote of confidence moving forward that the community would like to see this public amenity expanded,” Williams said.
Whereas the upstream project cost $100 million for the first five-mile stretch of the river, the eight miles of Rio Salado Oeste will require about $154 million.
“We’re just finishing the feasibility study,” Williams explained. “The next step will be for us to get it authorized in the Water Resource Development Act, a congressional bill that Congress passes that authorizes projects that would receive funding for environment restoration. The funding would go directly to the Army Corps of Engineers.”
Each year federal appropriations must be granted as well.
“It takes awhile to make all that happen, but we also know that it does happen,” Williams said. “We have Rio Salado to prove it. We started working with the Army Corps of Engineers on the upstream portion in 1993.”
The first four miles of the Rio Salado Project opened to the public on Nov. 5, 2005, but one mile remains unfinished. It will be completed within the next year.
During construction of the Rio Salado Project, 138,572 cubic yards of debris and waste was taken out of the river, 1,185 tons of tires were removed, and 1.7 million cubic yards of sand and gravel were excavated to create the low-flow channel. Williams said revitalizing Rio Salado Oeste will require similar efforts.
“Unfortunately, the illegal dumping that happens in the riverbed is pretty sad,” she added.
Gravel pits remain downstream – the result of sand and gravel businesses that ceased operations and even some that are still active. As well, there is land owned by the federal government, Maricopa County, the City of Phoenix and private individuals. Project officials will have to again go through the process of working cooperatively with current land owners to acquire property along the river.
Downstream improvements to the riverbed are likely to attract interest from residential and commercial developers, as has already happened upstream. To date, the Rio Salado Beyond the Banks area – which covers seven square miles surrounding the Salt River and is bordered by the I-17/10 freeways to the north, Broadway Road on the south, 19th Avenue on the west, and 32nd Street on the east – has already seen $350 million in new development, Williams said.
At Valley Forward’s 26th Annual Environmental Excellence Awards on Oct. 13, the Rio Salado Project won the President’s Award. In addition to receiving the organization’s top honor, the Rio Salado Project received two first-place Crescordia Awards in the categories of Open Space and Connectivity (Parks) and Environmental Stewardship – the SRP Award.
Due to the funding and authorization process, Williams said it’s difficult to project a timeline for completion of Rio Salado Oeste, but groundbreaking won’t likely begin until 2010.