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Cienega Outlook
-Living in the Watershed Series-
In This Newsletter
Ways You Can Help
Who is the CWP?
Upcoming Workshops
Where is the Cienega Watershed?
Conservation Downstream
Ways You Can Help  
Protect Shallow Groundwater   

Get to  Know the Rich Landscape 

Shallow groundwater is defined as an area that has a water table less than 50 feet below the land surface.  Shallow groundwater sustains lush, rare riparian habitat, like we see in the Cienega Watershed within Cienega Creek, Davidson Canyon and Empire Gulch. 

Aerial View of Davidson Canyon

  In our dry climate, most rain evaporates before it reaches a perennial river or infiltrates into our deep aquifers.  A small amount of precipitation sinks into the ground where the conditions are right, such as at the foothills of mountains and in wash channels where soils are permeable, climate is cooled, runoff is slowed down, and the water table is shallow.  Groundwater in saturated sediments beneath our feet can be elevated to the surface by shallow bedrock which acts as a barrier preventing water from sinking down further so that we instead see the groundwater exposed above. This is one type of place where we find year-round water flowing in the desert, and the unique aquatic habitat that thrives there. 

These rare shallow groundwater areas create unique riparian habitat, which rely on groundwater being less than 50 feet from the surface.  Riparian areas function as shelter, sustenance and migration corridors for an abundance of desert wildlife. Mesquite bosques can be a sign of shallow groundwater (about 10 meters or less). Cottonwood galleries and sacaton grasslands are a sure sign of even shallower water (about 3 meters) and seasonal or perennial surface water nearby.


Sharing Current and Localized Dropping Water Table Concerns 


A Pima Association of Governments analysis found not only record-level severe drought conditions in Cienega Creek, but also that the number of wells and amount pumped from this shallow groundwater area has increased each decade. 



As local well owners, we use the same groundwater as the rich, fragile habitat that we enjoy living near.  During dry seasons and drought, the water needs of people and landscapes increase.  Local drought conditions are severe and are impacting the survival of aquatic species as well as causing well owners to truck in water or drill deeper.   


What can you do?

Rainwater harvesting makes the difference!

Harvesting rainwater on your landscape means collecting rain in containers or contouring the land to capture runoff for beneficial use. Using this water will reduce your need to irrigate with pumped groundwater.


Stormwater earthworks in your landscape help to slow runoff and increase stormwater infiltration to replenish the shallow groundwater

Earthworks trainings held by CWP and partners help to restore erosion and prevent the de-watering of our shallow aquifers, which can occur when erosion cuts away at the spongy layer that holds water in the shallow alluvial aquifer. 


One-rock dams increase soil moisture. Our Youth Engaged Stewards restored this grasslands in Summer of 2014.  Native landscapes can also be made more drought resilient by contouring your land to direct water to plantings. 


Some residents on the periphery of Tucson have chosen to install large rainwater harvesting cisterns instead of drilling deeper wells or hauling in imported water. They have found it to be similar to the price of a new well and to still supply enough water for the household.  


Charles Cole and Carol Townsend, who live outside water utility service areas, say rainfall has provided all of their water requirements since 2005. It is stored in a large, partially hidden cistern, complete with a filtration and water pressure system. 

 CWP's Arroyo Restoration projects continue with NEW funding this year!  Keep your eye out for future announcements about upcoming of workshops.


The Cienega watershed is has successful preserves and conservation areas where endangered species are surviving and cultural heritage is thriving. Let's keep it that way!


About Us

Cienega means 'wetlands'. In a desert landscape where most riparian areas are threatened, we work to preserve the Cienega Creek watershed into perpetuity.


Our mission is to keep this cool desert respite - a home for significant natural and cultural resources - as a legacy for our children and their children. CWP works with all stakeholders who can impact the sustainability of the ecosytems.



Visit our website at for the latest updates on the Youth Engaged Stewardship summer projects, videos form the Science on the Sonoita Plains,  and Forest Service response to CWP objections to the proposed mine in the Santa Ritas.

Upcoming Partner Workshops 

Urban Stream Restoration

Join WMG January 16 - 17, 2015 in Tucson.

Watershed Management Group is hosting an Urban Stream Restoration Technical Training taught by Van Clothier. Learn channel assessment techniques, restoration strategies, and try your hand at creating restoration features. Participants will learn how to read the urban landscape from a water flow perspective, and begin to identify the many possibilities for altering existing infrastructure and restoring natural processes. Click here to register.  Please contact Kieran Sikdar ( from Watershed Management Group if you have questions. Please forward to others that might be interested.




Road Drainage and Water Harvesting Workshop

Date/Time: January 26-28, 2015

Location: 27000 W Elkhorn Ranch Road, Tucson, AZ 85736

Learn from the experience of Steve Carson watershed restoration specialist and prot�g� of Bill Zeedyk. Steve will be teaching the practical and common sense theories behind proper road drainage and water harvesting. On day one, you will learn the basic "science" of road drainage and water harvesting and reading the landscape necessary to do site assessment and chose locations for your road drainage structures. Day two, you will continue to apply the techniques of road drainage site selection and then sites you have selected will be implemented by a qualified equipment operator. Day three will be devoted to training pre-qualified equipment operators on the techniques needed to effectively and efficiently install road drainage and water harvesting structures.





What is the Cienega Watershed?  


The Cienega Watershed, part of the larger Santa Cruz watershed, has its headwaters in Elgin and, flowing north, contributes significantly to the aquifer of Tucson and Pima County.  The watershed contains unique vegetative communities, including five of the rarest habitat types in the American Southwest: cienegas (marshlands), cottonwood-willow riparian forests, sacaton grasslands, mesquite bosques, and semi-desert grasslands. 


Ci�nega Creek is one of the few remaining streams in southern Arizona that continues to support native vertebrate species originally inhabiting the ci�negas of southern Arizona. 

The Cienega Watershed Partnership facilitates cooperative actions that steward resources of the Cienega Watershed while enabling sustainable human use.






Good News!

On Dec. 16, 2014, The Pima County the Board of Supervisors approved a conservation easement donated by a private property owner along Agua Verde Creek.  This is another vote of confidence in the landscape-level vision of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.  The donation will conserve over 200 acres of private land in the Agua Verde, located between the Rincon Mountains and the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve.  The owners will continue to own and use the ranch.



CWP collaborates through meetings including the State of the Watershed, Biological Planning, and Science on the Sonoita plains.   We recommend shared management goals, watershed health indicators, and ranked strategies through-out various agencies and landowners in the watershed.

Monitoring is recommended where groundwater restoration methods are applied to increase stormwater infiltration.

Strategic additions of preserved lands, such as through open space acquisition in Pima County's conservation land system, provided by willing sellers and easements, is advised as a means to reduce additional groundwater withdrawals in areas of priority shallow groundwater habitat.

This issue written by: 
Mead Mier,
CWP Board Member

Cienega Watershed Partnership

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