Water means life here in the desert. Where there’s water, you’ll find our super important riparian areas…
If you’re in Arizona and want to know where the water is, just look for ribbons of green that cut across the desert landscape. These riparian areas (streamside habitat) are VITAL to our wildlife.
Yep, Arizona’s water users not only include the 7 million people who live here, but also nearly 5,000 species of native animals and plants. Amazingly, Arizona is in the top five states when it comes to BIODIVERSITY!
Water Festivals & More
Arizona Project WET is all about water education. Each year, it puts on water festivals throughout the state for thousands of fourth-graders. In fact, more than 100,000 kids in 26 Arizona communities have participated so far. Project WET also reaches out to middle school students with its Riparian Habitat Exploration Program. “Around 80 percent of plants and animals rely on riparian areas in Arizona for at least part of their lives,” points out Arizona Project WET Director Kerry Schwartz.
Water Grows the Plants…
Rivers, streams and even dry-looking arroyos are at the heart of these ribbons of green. “From a plant standpoint, cottonwoods, willows and sycamores that line our rivers really aren’t found in the other (drier) desert areas,” Schwartz explains. The variety of plants “provides the shelter and the food sources and the places where wildlife can safely grow their young. It’s not just the water. The water kind of brings about the other components of the habitat that are so important!”
Critters from tiny insects to large mammals depend on our riparian areas. “One of the things we focus on in our Riparian Exploration Program is the macro invertebrates—so the nymph or larval stages of things like dragonflies and damselflies and butterflies—they’re all around those riparian areas,” Schwartz continues. “Even the desert creatures like javelina and other animals that can eat cactus for part of their water, they also rely on the riparian areas to drink.”
Birds are attracted to these habitats like small and acrobatic vermilion flycatchers or black phoebes. And there are water birds like ducks, egrets, and great blue herons. Raptors like gray hawks and owls hunt from above.
Dwindling Riparian Areas
Unfortunately, most of these ribbons of green have been damaged or have disappeared due to our growing population
and pumping out too much groundwater. According to studies, less than 10 percent of Arizona’s riparian habitat acreage remains in its natural form. Shwartz says that new studies are looking at how releasing reclaimed water to help rivers flow again, even if it’s not along the entire length, can bring back or support riparian areas.
She wants families to visit places like Phoenix’s Rio Salado Restoration Area or Tucson’s Sweetwater Wetlands or the Hassayampa River Preserve near Wickenberg to get an appreciation for our riparian areas.