Happy Earth Day 2022, Pima County Residents!
This year’s Earth Day theme is “Invest In Our Planet”. Today we’d like to bring attention to the current climate change issues affecting Pima County.
Over the last several years, Pima County has experienced many of the negative consequences of climate change. One of the most notable displays of extreme weather in Pima County are the prolonged wildfire seasons. In 2020, a devastating wildfire season brought about The Bighorn Fire, which destroyed around 120,000 acres in the Catalina Mountains, alongside several other wildfires throughout Arizona. The unseasonably hot and dry conditions leading to these wildfires were exacerbated by the lack of rainfall from 2020’s monsoon season.
On the other end of the spectrum, climate change has ramped up the severity of our monsoon seasons. Although the year before lacked a monsoon season, 2021 went on record to have the third wettest monsoon in Tucson history and spawned several rescue missions over the course of the season.
Despite the insane amount of rainfall we received in 2021, Pima County never escaped Arizona’s drought of over two decades. Pima County is considered to be at ground level zero in terms of water conservation because many of its rivers have had their water sources depleted.
The Santa Cruz River, located here in Pima County, is an example of a river that dried up due to excessive groundwater pumping for irrigation and urban development. It’s not the only one – the Rillito River has also dried up due to the same conditions. In a desert like ours, water conservation is critical, and the damage done to these water sources can have massive consequences. Despite the current state here, there is still time to heal at least some of the damage. Our best hope may be returning these lands to native tribes who know how to take care of it.
This can be seen with the restoration of the Santa Cruz River, which has had water supply restored to areas running through the San Xavier District as a result of the Tohono O’odham Nation’s reclamation of the river. The Santa Cruz River was an important water source for early native tribes, but it was stolen and damaged by unsustainable groundwater pumping. Presently, the Tohono O’odham Nation has restored water supply following water rights settlements that gave them the opportunity to reduce groundwater usage.
The Santa Cruz River is just one of many possible examples of river and land restoration that can result from returning land to native tribes. This aspect is crucial to consider in environmental discussions moving forward.