The Gila stretches 600 miles across Arizona, supporting agriculture, recreation and wildlife
The Gila River is profiled today as the sixth “River of the Month” in a year-long series celebrating Arizona’s centennial year. In a state not often recognized for its water resources, the River of the Month series raises awareness about the ecology and geology of rivers in Arizona as well as the uses they serve and the threats they face. This month’s profile of the Gila River is available here. The series is produced by Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, Sonoran Institute, and Western Resource Advocates.
As described in the profile released today, the Gila River stretches nearly 600 miles across Arizona, draining an area equal to half the land in the state, roughly 60,000 square miles. It originates in southwestern New Mexico and flows into Arizona near the town of Duncan. From the border the Gila flows year-round for 35 miles. This stretch includes the Gila Box National Riparian Conservation Area, which provides recreation and significant habitat for wildlife. The Gila Box is a dynamic area that supports amphibians, fish, desert big horn sheep and over 150 bird species, including endangered species such as the Southwestern willow flycatcher.
“Although long stretches of the Gila historically flowed year-round, the large number of dams and diversions constructed over the last 100 years have severely reduced or eliminated once healthy flows in many reaches of the river,” say the conservation organizations in the River of the Month profile.
A significant amount of the Gila’s water is diverted for irrigation and agricultural uses. Overuse and increasing competition for river, tributary, and groundwater resources throughout the watershed threaten the river, as do prolonged regional drought and climate change. Multiple conservation efforts are underway, including water quality improvement projects, stream restoration, and flow protection efforts.
Previous River of the Month profiles have featured the Colorado River, the Salt River, the Little Colorado River, the Santa Cruz River, and the Bill Williams River. The University of Arizona’s Water Resources Research Center has provided technical assistance in creating the profiles.