a Large-scale conservation efforts are being carried out in partnership with many community groups and non-profits to clean up trash along the Santa Cruz River. The Sonora Institute is no exception, though director Luke Cole noted a key aspect of the organization’s efforts in the watershed.
“What’s unique about Sonora Labs in certain initiatives is that we’re constantly collecting data,” Cole said. “It’s bipartisan, it’s data gathering, it’s consensus building, it’s getting people into the river.”
The Sonora Arizona Laboratory will host its regular “Clean the Santa Cruz” event on Saturday, May 20th. As part of the Institute’s efforts to keep Santa Cruz’s waterways clean, participants gather in the river to pick up litter.
The institute will also host a raffle based on participation, with prizes donated by local businesses at the end of the event. After cleaning up, volunteers head to the Dragoon Brewing Company to celebrate their efforts and offer their first drink for $1.
Their goal is to pick up over 2,000 pounds of trash in two hours. The last clean-up in February significantly surpassed this minimum, with more than 100 volunteers coming to help.
“We hope to remove 7,000 pounds of trash in two hours, what we did in February,” Cole said. “The community has really exceeded our expectations. The Santa Cruz River is a better fit for that.”
An anonymous sponsor pledged to donate $1 for every pound of trash picked up, up to $1,000. Caterpillar has also partnered with Sonora Laboratories in an effort to clean up the waste found in the river, pledging to sponsor cleanup efforts.
Part of the company’s involvement comes from its desire to preserve the environment near its Santa Cruz location.
“One might wonder if they chose the location because of the beautiful waterfront,” Cole said. “They are a community stakeholder organization with ties to Santa Cruz and saw value in supporting the work that the Sonora Institute is doing on the river.”
In addition to partnerships with Caterpillar and other organizations, the institute plays a key role in Pima County’s flood response efforts. The Sonora Lab has completed surveys at more than 200 locations across the river and listed all the trash found.
They published their findings in Living River Magazine, documenting what types of trash can be found in rivers and where to build a public database. We also report data to the Flood Management Authority, which may use the data to improve our efforts during the monsoon season.
Debris accumulation is a problem on the Santa Cruz River, but the river and its tributaries have been relatively clean for the past decade. The river was a rich resource for ancient indigenous peoples until it dried up during the western expansion of the 20th century. Since then, the water system has served as the city’s open sewer system, Cole said.
“My great-grandparents, grandparents and parents, of course, have warned their children not to go into the river because it was so dirty and dangerous,” Cole explained.
Since 2013, the Acqua Nueva and Tres Rios wastewater treatment plants have been built to supply clean water to Santa Cruz. The Sonora Institute’s mission is to keep rivers running clean and improve water flow and quality for years to come.
“The work we do is aimed at facilitating positive change for those before us…” added Cole. “…I hope we can reconnect people with natural resources like the Santa Cruz River that have supported them for thousands of years.”
Cole explained that anyone in the community can make a difference in Santa Cruz, even if they can’t pick up the trash. Collecting a little litter on the street, driveway, or in your neighborhood can help keep debris out of your water system.
He hoped that the organized clean-up would not only benefit the river, but would also teach people the importance of conserving the water as a whole, especially in the vibrant desert cities that exist thanks to the river. I’m in.
“Everyone who lives in Tucson and Pima County should feel responsible for stewardship of the Santa Cruz River, what’s left on it, and what we’ve taken from it,” Cole said. “That’s what it means to be a good neighbor and a good person in history.”
Cleaning Santa Cruz by Sonora Labs
when: Saturday, May 20th from 9:00 am to 11:00 am
where: 514 N. Riverside Drive