Audubon—along with the Rio Reimagined project—hosted a roundtable event this week with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Rep. Tom O'Halleran, Rep. Greg Stanton, Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, Phoenix Councilmember Yassamin Ansari, Mesa Mayor John Giles, Buckeye Mayor Eric Orsborn, Goodyear Mayor Joe Pizzillo, Tempe Mayor Corey Woods, Tempe Councilmember Doreen Garlid, as well as officials from Arizona State University and various federal, state, and local agencies. The event was held at the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center in downtown Phoenix.
Audubon Southwest's Policy Director Haley Paul gave the following remarks to the roundtable:
Hi everyone, I am so appreciative to be here today and sit among you as we discuss next steps for our beloved Salt and Gila Rivers, the heart of this region for many peoples, both past and present.
I also wanted to thank the Department of Interior for their support of the Urban Waters Program on this 10th anniversary.
At Audubon, I focus on advancing policies that ensure water security for all Arizonans. After all, birds need water, and so do communities. While rivers comprise only 2% of our landscape in the Colorado River Basin, they support 50% of all the birds that reside in or pass through it. And with climate change intensifying drought, Audubon and partners are working toward solutions that improve Arizona’s water outlook for people and our environment.
Rio Reimagined is such an inspirational and unifying initiative—and Audubon is thrilled to be involved. For example, the Lower Gila River Collaborative is a strong and ongoing partnership in the west valley to improve and enhance river health and water flows, provide public access and recreational opportunities, mitigate flood and fire risk, and support wildlife habitat.
And thanks to our ongoing partnership and relationship with the City of Phoenix, this Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center provides a physical anchor, and grounds us in the work of revitalizing this river. The restored habitat you see today in the riverbed would not have been possible without the incredible collaboration among our Congressional delegation, and the federal, state, and local agencies who brought this portion of the Rio Salado to life. Trails, educational opportunities, habitat, and now, the Valley Metro light rail extension demonstrate how continued investments support long-term community and environmental vitality.
We also recognize that we must be purposeful and deliberate to ensure these investments do not displace those who call the river corridor home or operate a business here—we must foster inclusive participation and prioritize equitable community benefits as we continue this work.
We also need greater investment in forest restoration and watershed health, to ensure our rivers continue to flow. New investment opportunities, like those in the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act, will help do just that.
Thanks in large part to Senators Sinema and Kelly, Arizona—and the entire Western US—have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve our infrastructure so that it better aligns with the water realities we face. At Audubon, our take is: continue to look for opportunities to align environmental protection strategies with water management that benefits water users.
We have a lot of great things going for Rio Reimagined. The Infrastructure Act, the 2020 designation by the EPA as the 20th Urban Waters Federal Partnership Project, The Fish and Wildlife Service's recent designation as an Urban Wildlife Conservation Partnership, federal land managers along the river corridor, and on-the-ground leadership from tribal nations and municipalities.
Lessons learned from the Drought Contingency Plan resonate today as Rio Reimagined embarks on its next steps. To be successful in our overall water management in the state, stakeholders historically excluded from the conversation must be at the table. This is certainly an all-hands-on-deck moment, and the work will be more successful when more are involved.