Sharon Headshot 2017.jpg

Sharon Bronson, District 3 Supervisor/Chair. Photo approved on 10/30/17 by Maria Klucarova

Name a Pima County department that saves lives. You probably immediately thought of the Health Department, given the pernicious pandemic we’re struggling through. Or maybe the Sheriff’s Department and its hundreds of deputies keeping us safe every day.

How about the Regional Flood Control District? No? You should because Flood Control protects lives and property every year. That was clearly on display last month when record rain fell over four days, filling the metro rivers bank-to-bank with billions of gallons of water. That flood event was similar in size to the floods in 2006 and 1993.

Yet despite all that water, there was very little property damage and no loss of life. Instead, hundreds of millions of dollars of flood control infrastructure directed the water away from property, into the rivers and out of town.

After a series of El Nino-fueled floods in the 1970s, the Arizona Legislature allowed for the creation of Flood Control Districts to raise funds necessary to pay for infrastructure needed to protect lives and property in our fast-growing state.

Just five years after the Pima County Regional Flood Control District was formed, we were hit with a 500-year flood event in 1983, devastating the metro area, destroying 150 homes and claiming nine lives. The flood caused more than $550 million in property damage (in 2018 dollars) and taught flood control engineers many painful lessons.

Since that great flood, county taxpayers have invested nearly $400 million in diversion channels, soil-cement riverbanks, retention basins and other methods to make the water go where we want without wreaking havoc or devastation.

Not all the infrastructure is made from concrete, either. The District has installed dozens of rain gauges around the Pima County that digitally report up-to-the-minute rainfall totals. Dozens of flow meters in the washes and rivers also report the feet per second of runoff flows minute-by-minute. If there is a large thunderstorm dumping big water on the side of a mountain, RFCD can see it happening in real time and alert emergency agencies downstream with accurate information about the amount of water heading their way, allowing them to make quick assessments of the relative danger. The public can view the rain and streamflow data online, but if you live next to or near a wash or river, I highly recommend signing up for MyAlerts. You can get alerts for the specific watershed you live near.

The staff, scientists and engineers at County Flood Control are some of the finest in the country, developing brilliant and innovative methods to not only control flooding, but to use runoff to restore riparian habitats, water turf, and create or preserve recreation amenities.

The Kino Environmental Restoration Project near Ajo Way and Kino Parkway collects runoff from a 17-square mile drainage area on the southside, collecting and storing the water in large ponds that support an amazing array of wildlife, trees, shrubs and aquatic plants. The water collected there also is used to water the turf at Kino Sports Complex, saving taxpayers thousands of dollars in water fees every year.

I am immensely proud to have played a role in supporting, funding and advocating for the Flood Control District’s efforts to protect people and property for more than half of its 42-year existence. The next time it rains, or rains a lot, give a thought to these hard-working professionals who build and maintain the systems to keep the water out of your homes and businesses and put it in the river where it belongs.

District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson is the chair of the Board of Supervisors

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