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Pima County leaders seek federal help for a new urban wildlife refuge on Santa Cruz River

Local leaders and community groups in Pima County are asking for federal help to set up a new wildlife refuge along the Santa Cruz River. It’s a tributary of the Gila River that runs through southern Arizona and across the border into Mexico.

The Santa Cruz starts near the Patagonia Mountains and dips into Mexico before traveling up through Nogales and Tucson. But its flow had all but disappeared in many areas, because of water pumping, drought and other issues. Then a few years ago, water authorities in Tucson began discharging reclaimed water into the dry river bed around the city. Now, county officials say they want to take the next step. 

In a  letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pima County Supervisor Adelita Grijalva says local efforts are already underway to green up the stretch of river and riverbed in Tucson — including trail systems, wildlife and vegetation projects. She’s asking the agency to establish a Santa Cruz River Urban Wildlife Refuge so that more federal resources can be brought in. Grijalva said she hoped the project would also help increase economic mobility for Tucson families. 

"Research shows that Pima County has one of the lowest rates of economic mobility in the U.S. for low-income children, especially children of color. And we know where children grow up has a causal connection," the letter read. "Access to nature and green spaces is one of several environmental factors that has been found to make a difference, not only in health but in long term prosperity."

The letter offers up three locations along the river where such a project could begin. 

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Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.Prior to joining KJZZ, she covered border and immigration at Arizona Public Media, where she was awarded a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her coverage of Indigenous-led protests against border wall construction.Reznick started her career working in bilingual newsrooms and as a freelance journalist in Amman, Jordan. Her reporting on migration, refugees and human rights has appeared on PRX’s The World, Al Jazeera and Nova PBS, among others. As a recipient of the International Labour Organization's FAIRWAY Reporting Fellowship, she spent six months reporting on labor migration issues across Arab States.Originally from Flagstaff, she likes climbing, being outdoors and Pluto.