Requiem for the Santa Cruz

An Environmental History of an Arizona River

Robert H. Webb (Author), Julio L. Betancourt (Author), R. Roy Johnson (Author), Raymond M. Turner (Author), Bernard L. Fontana (Foreword)
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In prehistoric times, the Santa Cruz River in what is now southern Arizona saw many ebbs, flows, and floods.  It flowed on the surface, meandered across the floodplain, and occasionally carved deep channels or arroyos into valley fill. Groundwater was never far from the surface, in places outcropping to feed marshlands or ciénegas. In these wet places, arroyos would heal quickly as the river channel revegetated, the thriving vegetation trapped sediment, and the channel refilled. As readers of Requiem for the Santa Cruz learn, these aridland geomorphic processes also took place in the valley as Tucson grew from mud-walled village to modern metropolis, with one exception: historical water development and channel changes proceeded hand in glove, each taking turns reacting to the other, eventually lowering the water table and killing a unique habitat that can no longer recover or be restored.

Authored by an esteemed group of scientists, Requiem for the Santa Cruz thoroughly documents this river—the premier example of historic arroyo cutting during  the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when large floodflows cut down through unconsolidated valley fill to form deep channels in the major valleys of the American Southwest. Each chapter provides a unique opportunity to chronicle the arroyo legacy, evaluate its causes, and consider its aftermath. Using more than a collective century of observations and collections, the authors reconstruct the circumstances of the river’s entrenchment and the groundwater mining that ultimately killed the marshlands, a veritable mesquite forest, and a birdwatcher’s paradise.

Today, communities everywhere face this conundrum: do we manage ephemeral rivers through urban areas for flood control, or do we attempt to restore them to some previous state of perennial naturalness? Requiem for the Santa Cruz carefully explores the legacies of channel change, groundwater depletion, flood control, and nascent attempts at river restoration to give a long-term perspective on management of rivers in arid lands. Tied together by authors who have committed their life’s work to the study of aridland rivers, this book offers a touching and scientifically grounded requiem for the Santa Cruz and every southwestern river.

"Compelling. . . . The scholarship is thorough, balanced, and impeccable, and the writing is engaging."—Anthropocene

“The book crosscuts the disciplines of history, biology, floodplain policy, hydrology, geology, anthropology, and climatology. It could be a good read for experts in any of those disciplines, as well as water lawyers, floodplain managers, land-use planners, people who live along major rivers in the Southwest, bird watchers, armchair historians, and Tucsonans who want to know more about how things came to be.”—Julia Fonseca, Environmental Planning Manager for the Pima County Office of Sustainability and Conservation


“The book presents a model to explain changes to river systems that could be duplicated elsewhere using the same kinds of historical and climatological data.”—Linda L. Mayro, Cultural Resources Manager at the Pima County Cultural Resources Office


"An excellent choice for anyone interested in southwestern environmental history, the damage done in the area, and the possibility of restoration."—Choice
Requiem for the Santa Cruz
296 Pages 8.5 x 11 Published: 2014 Hardcover (9780816530724)

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