Santa Cruz River

WASHINGTON — A bill passed by the House Wednesday could expedite flood control measures along the Lower Santa Cruz River in Pinal County and in the city of Maricopa.

The House passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, a bipartisan package authorizing water infrastructure projects and studies through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The bill authorizes expediting completion of a flood study for the Lower Santa Cruz River. The basin, which includes parts of Pinal County, the city of Maricopa and the Gila River Indian Community, is one of the fastest growing regions in Arizona.

Despite a long history of flooding in the area, no flood control projects have been constructed. Repeated flooding could result in $186 million in damages, according to Army Corps of Engineers estimations.

Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also supported $150 million for an environmental infrastructure program in Arizona. This program provides financial assistance to public entities for water-related environmental infrastructure, and resource protection and development projects.

“For far too long, rural communities in Arizona haven’t gotten their fair share of federal infrastructure dollars. This program will help finance much-needed repairs and replacement of aging water infrastructure,” Stanton said.

Other projects supported by this program could include:

  • Wastewater treatment and related facilities, sewer overflow;
  • Water supply, storage, treatment and related facilities;
  • Environmental restoration;
  • Surface water resource protection and development.

Costs for projects would be shared on a 75% federal, 25% non-federal sponsor basis. The measure was supported by the Arizona Water Association and the Rural Water Association of Arizona as well as local leaders in communities across the state.

Lisa Jackson, president of the Arizona Water Association, called the program “good for the environment and our state’s public health” and said it “specifically recognizes the needs of small and rural communities, who have historically faced the most significant challenges procuring new water supplies and planning for the future.”

Stanton also advocated for the following measures to benefit Arizona, which were included in the final bill:

  • Authorization for construction of a flood control project for the Little Colorado River, consisting of new and reconstructed levees to protect the community of Winslow and other parts of Navajo County. The current levee system is at risk of overtopping or failing in a 100-year storm, leaving approximately 2,700 properties and 1,600 structures, including almost all of the community’s critical public facilities —hospitals, schools, nursing homes and utilities — vulnerable. This important project significantly reduces the threat to the community.
  • Authorization for a study of flood control options for the Tonto Creek watershed. Severe flooding prevents the area’s residents from going to work or school, getting groceries and even seeking medical treatment. Last year, three young children were swept downstream as their family attempted to cross the flooded river. At least five others have died in just the last 25 years. This study is a necessary first step to mitigate flooding in the area and avoid future tragedies.
  • Authorization to expedite completion of a report required for construction of the Tres Rios ecosystem restoration project along the Salt and Gila River corridors. The Tres Rios Wetlands are a part of Rio Reimagined, an ongoing green infrastructure project along the Rio Salado spearheaded by the late Sen. John McCain and the late Rep. Ed Pastor. Specifically, the project is designed to provide flood control protection and the use of treated effluent from a regional wastewater treatment facility to restore hydrological connectivity and sustain fish and wildlife habitat.
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