Between West Ina and Roger roads on the city's northwest side, the Santa Cruz is always flowing, thanks to treated effluent from wastewater-reclamation plants. JILL TORRANCE / ARIZONA DAILY STAR

Glistening water plunges over a steep drop, forms a swirling pool and then flows downstream in fluid beauty - attracting a flotilla of wild ducks and other birds.

It's just another day along an ever-flowing stretch of river on the edge of Tucson.

Really. A river flowing all the time. Right here in our desert city.

Of course there's a quirk: The wondrously watery stretch of the Santa Cruz River - vividly visible at West Ina Road and extending for some 18 miles to the northwest - is fed by treated effluent from wastewater-reclamation plants.


"There are two locations where we put treated effluent into the river - the Roger Road Wastewater Reclamation Facility and the Ina Road Wastewater Reclamation Facility," said Jackson Jenkins, director of the Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department.

"That creates a perpetual flow" in the Santa Cruz, Jenkins said, "because those facilities are operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

He said about 26 million gallons of water go into the river daily at the Ina Road site, with additional flows from the Roger Road facility.

"Because these are rather large volumes, they've created a riparian habitat," Jenkins said, "with beautiful trees, grass and bushes."


"Many people mistakenly have an impression that the Santa Cruz River is dry, but there are now large sections that are wet," said Scott Wilbor, conservation biologist with the Tucson Audubon Society.

Wilbor - who has visited flowing stretches of the Santa Cruz at Ina Road, Cortaro Road and as far northwest as Trico Road near the Pinal County line - said it can be a mecca for bird-watchers.

"We've done bird surveys on the river at the Ina Road bridge and found lots of species," Wilbor said. Among them:

• Black-necked stilts

• Ring-necked ducks

• Northern shovelers

• Blue-winged, cinnamon and green-winged teals

• Great blue herons

• Great egrets

• Snowy egrets

• American avocets

• Sandpipers

• Swallows of various species

• Red-winged blackbirds and other blackbirds

Wildlife along the river includes coyotes and javelinas, Wilbor said.


Bird-watchers and others have walked along various stretches of the flowing river, but county officials note that there aren't yet designated trails along the bank. Plans call for expanding paths along the river.

One place to get a good look at the flowing Santa Cruz is along a stretch immediately north of Ina Road. Bank-stabilization work and a broad access path on the west side of the river make for easy walking there.

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at or at 573-4192.