This morning, representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Arizona State University (ASU), the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and other federal, local and state partners held a live-streamed press conference to announce steps forward in the ongoing Rio Reimagined river revitalization initiative. The project, which first officially launched in March 2018, is now designated as a partner in the EPA’s Urban Waters Federal Partnership.

“This Urban Waters Partnership designation is a unique opportunity to engage with a broad array of federal agencies who collaborate to support river revitalization across the United States in only 19 other locations,” said Neil G. Giuliano, president and CEO of Greater Phoenix Leadership. Rio Reimagined spans 58 miles of the lower Salt and Gila Rivers, including six cities and two Native American communities. To date, the EPA has provided approximately $1 million worth of technology and funding to Rio Reimagined for local food, environmental assessment, hazard mitigation planning, green infrastructure and urban forestry. 

Local government leaders who attended the event included: Sen. Martha McSally; U.S. Representative Paul Gosar; Stephen Roe Lewis, governor of the Gila River Indian Community; Corey Woods, mayor of Tempe. There were video messages from Cindy McCain, wife of the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, Secretary of the DOI David Bernhardt, ASU president Michael Crow, president of the Salt River Pima – Maricopa Indian Community Michael Harvier and supervisor Jack Sellers from the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. 

“The Rio Reimagined project will bring new life to the Salt and Gila Rivers by transforming underutilized areas and creating sustainable outdoor spaces for Arizonans to enjoy,” McSally said. “Not only will it restore our river’s ecosystems, but it will also bring economic growth to the Phoenix metro area. Last year, I asked Administrator Andrew Wheeler to include Rio Reimagined in the unique Urban Waters Federal Partnership and I’m grateful he did. It was Senator John McCain who fiercely championed this plan after it had fallen to the wayside, and it is thanks to him that Rio Reimagined is finally becoming a reality.”

Rio Reimagined was first conceptualized by former Sen. John McCain in direct partnership with ASU and has a strong history of support. Both his wife Cindy McCain and Sen. McSally mentioned McCain’s interest and involvement with the project and noted how pleased they were that the EPA designation was coming to fruition. “It benefits Arizona and the communities along the river in profound ways that we probably can’t even imagine right now,” McSally said. “This is a part of our water future. Water is life and our water future really matters as Arizona is growing.”

Ryan C. Nichols, senior advisor in the Office of Water and Science at the DOI, said that the United States Geological Survey (USGS) will provide approximately $200,000 in order to assist the El Rio Vegetation Management Plan. A segment of Rio Reimagined, the El Rio Vegetation Management Plan was developed by the Maricopa County Flood Control District to identify areas along the Gila River to remove salt cedar and revegetate with native plant species. “It has been said that this river gave life to this valley, and now it is time to return life to this river” said Andrew R. Wheeler, a representative from the EPA. 

The project is starting soon, but so far, no specific date on when the public can expect to see changes or updates has been announced. Giuliano pointed out that each jurisdiction has its own way of making decisions and interacting with the community, so it may be some time before a timeline is firmly established.