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The El Rio Preserve in Marana will soon benefit from much-needed bank protection along the nearby Santa Cruz River after an agreement was struck between the town and Pima County.

The Marana Town Council recently approved an intergovernmental agreement with Pima County Regional Flood Control District that will bring much needed updates to the El Rio Preserve. The agreement focuses on bank protection along the preserve, construction of ‘bird islands’, and having the ability to control water within the reserve via a sluice gate. 

Both municipalities also agree to a land exchange which allows each to maintain their end of the agreement. 

“The IGA gives a vehicle for land trades so we can build on land that is ours,” said Deirdre Brosnihan P.E., project manager for the flood control district. “Marana can now work with the Cortaro-Marana Irrigation District to have a second mechanism to get more water into the preserve when the lake starts to dry down.”

As a part of the agreement, Marana will transfer a portion of land to the county flood control district that is necessary for bank protection construction along the Santa Cruz River to help mitigate any future flooding issues. The county is also obliged to build a drainage channel with a sluice gate from the Santa Cruz River that will run under Coachline Road and drain into the El Rio Preserve. Upon completion, Marana will be responsible for maintaining the canal and gate. 

“We’ll be doing bank protection along the north-front-face of the preserve to protect it from the Santa Cruz cutting in,” Brosnihan said. “We’ll also be taking some of the material from the Santa Cruz to build up a few spots and create more bird watching opportunities.”   

The El Rio Preserve sits on 104 acres and is home to 244 different bird species documented by the Tucson Audubon Society, according to Marana Parks and Recreation Director Jim Conroy. The area has become a hotspot for bird watchers from all round the region, Conroy added, especially since the completion of a new observation deck to the wetlands on Dec. 4.

To Conroy, one of the agreement’s most important features is bank protection along the preserve to prevent flooding, invasive plants and unsightly garbage in the area. 

“It will keep out non-native seeds from coming in while keeping trash that flows down the river out of the preserve,” Conroy said. “A lot of focus on the IGA has been on bank protections.” 

The agreement has taken around a year to develop due to both municipalities negotiating land trades and approving bank protection designs, according to Brosnihan.

“The design was really the driving mechanisation of when the IGA was going to be ready,” Brosnihan said. “We needed to get our design plans to a point where Marana felt comfortable signing off on the IGA.” 

Conroy said the productivity between both Marana and Pima County has been essential in getting the project off the ground in a relatively short amount of time. 

In years past, both Pima County and Marana have had issues working together, namely a disagreement about sewer rights which led to Marana filing a complaint against Pima County in Pima County Superior Court in 2007.  

 “The relationship with the Town of Marana and Pima County has been outstanding on this project,” Conroy said. “We’ve worked in an extremely productive manner.”

Moving forward, the Pima County Board of Supervisors are set to vote on the IGA this month. If approved, the county flood control district could start bank protection construction as soon as spring.

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