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Restoration efforts bring the All Souls procession to the Santa Cruz

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Ashley Muñoz | The Daily Wildcat

Kimberly Munoz participates in the 2017 All Souls Procession on Nov. 5.

Restoration work done by a local environmental organization paved the way for Tucson’s annual All Souls Procession to take a new route this weekend, along the Santa Cruz River. 

The Sonoran Institute, a Tucson-based organization that works to better the environment, has been working in the Santa Cruz for over 26 years according to Claire Zugmeyer, an ecologist with the Sonoran Institute. 

“The river has supported people for over 12,000 years,” Zugmeyer said.

Zugmeyer has led the way in the Santa Cruz by monitoring vegetation and fish populations, producing reports on the health of the river, organizing research efforts and raising awareness to conservation efforts.

Historically, the All Souls Procession route has been held downtown, beginning on Sixth Ave and continuing onto Congress Street. 

This event stems from the Mexican-Catholic tradition El Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Members of the community dress up, build floats and organize groups to walk in the procession as a way of honoring the dead. 

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This year, with the help of the Sonoran Institute, the procession ran parallel to the Santa Cruz from Speedway Boulevard to Congress Street. The Sonoran Institute built a float in honor of the river for Sunday's procession.

“In my mind, there is no better place to have this beautiful community event that respects and honors those who have come and gone than right along the life-blood of Tucson,” Zugmeyer said. “This is an opportunity to honor the ghost of our river’s past; at the same time, we can celebrate our living river for what it is and what it can become.” 

The Santa Cruz River stretches from the San Rafael Basin near Patagonia, Arizona, for 184 miles until it meets the Gila river near Casa Grande. 

“For early hunter-gathers, native groups and settlers, the river was the primary source of water,” Zugmeyer said. “The river didn’t flow from start to finish year-round, but there were many places where there was water year-round.” 

Southern Arizonans started pumping groundwater in the 1890s. Zugmeyer said this had two effects: 

First, people were no longer required to go to the river to get their water, and second, the water levels began to drop over time so that areas of the river that once had water year-round ran dry. 

“However, starting in the '70s, we started giving back to the river with the release of effluent, treated wastewater,” Zugmeyer said. “While it’s not ‘natural,’ this practice is maintaining two flowing sections, one in Santa Cruz County and one in Pima County.”

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While Zugmeyer said the focus on the river has been lost, all stretches, both wet and dry, are important for the region.

“The river is a corridor of recreation opportunities, wildlife habitats, flood control and natural aquifer recharge, and it is the key cultural thread connecting past and future communities,” Zugmeyer said. 

With those future communities in mind, the Sonoran Institute is doing what it can to ensure a healthier future for the Santa Cruz and all the life it supports.

“For the last decade, our annual Living River reports have demonstrated the benefits of releasing high-quality effluent into the river,” Zugmeyer said. “In both Santa Cruz and Pima County, we can simultaneously recharge our aquifer, support important wildlife habitat, sustain our flowing river heritage and build a valued community amenity.”

The Sonoran Institute has big dreams for the future of the Santa Cruz, according to Zugmeyer.

“We envision a future living Santa Cruz River whose natural and cultural vibrancy is celebrated and embraced by our diverse community,” Zugmeyer said. “From Mexico through Marana, whether dry or wet, the river corridor is the visible core of our communities."


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