Rio Salado

Fifty or more years ago there was a steady year round flow of water in what is known as Salt River. Then the dams were put up to provide the city residents with water supply. The use of river dams to control the water flow created a dry river bed, changing the ecosystem of this area forever. These changes would later have an enormous environmental impact on the surrounding area and its residents. In his article “The Rio Salado project, the rest of the story” an environmental justice activist from South Phoenix, Steve Brittle, asks an important question: “Can the ecosystem along the riverbed be restored, after 50 years of dryness and floods?”  As with every story there are two sides to this one.


            On March 10, 20006 our South Phoenix class met on the Rio Salado Project “gateway” platform to listen to guest speakers Danielle Taddy (Rio Salado Park Manager) and Susan Sargeant (City of Phoenix Planning Dept). Danielle and Susan are obviously in favor of Rio Salado project. They are heavily involved in the project and I think that it is important to hear their part of the story. Danielle’s speech focused on Rio Salado project and its features. Rio Salado is a 595-acre desert river habitat that covers a 5 mile area from 19th Avenue to 28th Street. Rio Salado project opened on Nov. 5, 2005 and an estimated total cost was $99 million. The habitat provides home to a number of plants and animals. Rio Salado includes recreation and education features such as hiking, bicycling, jogging, photography, wildlife viewing and others.

Susan outlined the benefits Rio Salado provides and also the significance it has for the community. She also explained the plans for “beyond the banks” project which is the investment in and revitalization of the area. Some of the benefits of Rio Salado proposed by Susan include, visitor destination near downtown, improvements in flood management, environmental education opportunities and others. Rio Salado is also supposed to trigger new development and maximize the property values around the river.

            There are some opposing viewpoints to the Rio Salado project. An environmental activist Steve Brittle opposes the Rio Salado Restoration Project. He was our third guest speaker of the day and he gave us an overview of toxic sites and other issues in Rio Salado area. In the article mentioned above, Steve explains some of the dangers that Rio Salado poses for the community including mosquitoes and an epidemic of humane and equine (horse) encephalitis, real concerns about contaminated surface water, the threat of spreading, seeping contamination, the probability of future floods and others. His alternative to the Rio Salado project is to clean up the landfills and dumps along the riverbed and than leave it alone.   

            I think it was interesting and at the same time very important to hear and to learn about both sides of the Rio Salado project story. Despite all the controversy, Rio Salado is now open and only time will tell what kind of an impact is it going to have on the community and on South Phoenix in general as it constantly keeps changing.


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