What communities are involved in the Rio Reimagined initiative?
The Rio Reimagined initiative is an open and ever-expanding partnership of many public, private, non-profit, and community stakeholders along the Salt and Gila River corridor. In March 2018, in a gesture of good will and support, elected leadership of 9 municipal, county, and tribal communities signed a ‘Statement of Intent’ to “establish and form a working group to fuel the project and aide in the overall planning, review, and approval process for the project.” As this multi-decade initiative proceeds with its early years of convening and discussion, the critical value of community input and engagement in existing and potential projects, continues to expand and enrich the planning process.
Who is part of the current planning structure of the initiative in this early stage?

A Project Working Group (PWG) was formed in late 2017 with representation from municipalities, tribes, SRP, and State and Federal agencies to discuss opportunities and challenges associated with the complexities of the initiative. Presentations and ‘best practices’ discussions with leadership of precedent projects (Trinity River Authority, San Antonio River Authority, Los Angeles River, etc.) were provided along with updates on local/regional priorities for the corridor. The PWG evolved in 2020 into a larger public ‘Rio Reimagined Partnership’ that meets every two months (currently online) and includes representation from private sector, non-profits, and the community-at-large.

If you are interested in attending these bi-monthly meetings, please email

What is Arizona State University’s role?
In Spring 2017, the late U.S. Senator John McCain asked his friend and colleague Dr. Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University (ASU), to bring ASU’s research expertise, organizational resources, and experience with large-scale urban planning projects to the Rio Reimagined project. ASU’s University City Exchange office, a component of the President’s Office of University Affairs, has worked with public, private, and non-profit organizations to convene community leadership, research valuable precedents, organize and connect to federal resources, and guide river communities in the formation of a non-profit organization.


What are the boundaries of the Rio Reimagined?
Initial boundaries for Rio Reimagined extend approximately 55+ east/west miles of the Salt and Gila River corridor in central Arizona and encompass 78,000+ acres extending from State Route-85 to Granite Reef Dam. At this time, the study area is defined as one mile from both banks of the river, which creates a substantive and diverse planning and programming scope for stakeholders. While this is a regional initiative with opportunity for leveraged outcomes, each river community maintains its jurisdiction, control, and self-determination in their respective reach of the river corridor.
What exists in the river today?

Over the past four decades, Valley communities, with many local, state, and federal government agencies and nongovernmental organizations, have engaged in efforts to revitalize the Rio Salado and its watershed. The cities of Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa have invested in parks, bike paths, bridges, river improvements, and other projects. Previous planning and revitalization efforts include six U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects focused on flood control, ecological restoration, and recreation: the El Rio Watercourse Master Plan, Tres Rios Habitat Restoration and Wetlands, Rio Salado Oeste, Rio Salado Phoenix, Rio Salado Tempe, and Rio Salado Mesa. Some of these projects have been successfully funded and implemented, while others are still in a planning phase.

The most notable of the projects implemented to date is the Tempe Town Lake which has contributed new or enhanced recreation and cultural amenities, public art, riparian habitat, economic development, tourism, employment, and housing to the Valley. Another significant environmental asset is the Tres Rios Environmental Habitat Restoration project which has rehabilitated nearly 700 acres in and around the Salt River, restoring 52 acres of vital wetlands. It is the fourth largest constructed wetland in the U.S. and has created significant riparian habitat that results in increased, ecotourism from global markets. The Tres Rios project created a unique mutually beneficial relationship between the wetlands and a nearby wastewater treatment plant supporting several growing cities in the metro region.

Check out the website MAP which includes links to several existing projects in the river corridor.

What are the primary objectives of a project plan for the river corridor?

There is no current master plan design for Rio Reimagined as we are still in a major discovery and collaboration phase. This phase requires significant community input and engagement. Other river revitalization plans from cities across the country have included and integrated multiple and diverse objectives such as public open space, environmental and water quality, housing, transportation, economic development, workforce development, community sustainability, and resilience as well as others. Revitalization must include a vibrant program determined through a strategic and comprehensive public outreach and stakeholder engagement process. The initiative is a landmark opportunity to coalesce a grand, comprehensive vision for the corridor that embodies the future economic, social and environmental vitality of our communities as well as cultivates a progressive identity for our River and its watershed.

The following principles are general working guidelines that will evolve with the initiative:

  • Establish a multi-jurisdictional vision for the future
  • Reconnect the community to the river and its origin
  • Restore the value of the river and adjacent sites
  • Feature impactful and instructive sustainable elements
  • Build an unprecedented regional destination
  • Be a catalyst for economic growth and inclusion
  • Establish the highest design expectations
What are the primary challenges of a plan for the river corridor?

There are many challenges, some known and many unknown at this time. Challenges (and opportunities) are invested in four main areas of the initiative: Water, Funding, Community and Economic Development. The availability and role of water in corridor projects will be carefully evaluated by communities as a valuable and increasingly limited resource. The intent is for the initiative to contribute positively to long-term sustainable resource management principles that balance the Valley and State’s resources and growth. With respect to funding, it is safe to say that big government, sole-source project funding is unlikely. Funding sources (government, philanthropic, corporate, and institutional) will be varied and will require entrepreneurial approaches and strategic exploration. The planning process must also include an accurate representation of our diverse community. Participation of stakeholders from all communities affected by the revitalization of the river corridor is critical to the social equity and inclusivity that will ensure project success.


Why is the Salt River dry?

The Salt River is the largest tributary of the Gila River and is a perennial river from its headwaters in northern Arizona to the eastern edge of the metro Phoenix area where the Granite Reef Diversion Dam diverts any water in the river into two major canals, the Arizona and Southern. Both deliver drinking and irrigation water to much of the Valley’s urban area. The Diversion dam and canals are part of the Salt River Project, a federal reclamation project that manages much of the Valley’s surface and ground water supplies. Downstream of the diversion dam, the river is mostly dry, except for rain, storm, or agricultural runoff or releases from the dam. The Salt River joins the Gila River on the southwestern edge of the Valley.


How can water be obtained to create public water amenities similar to Tempe Town Lake?
Theoretically, it is feasible for cities and tribal nations to establish bodies of water in various configurations within the river corridor, however any water strategy will need to be balanced within existing State Legislation, existing and future demands, population growth projections, CAP and SRP policies and climate change. In addition, they would need to address major water sources – potable and non-potable, which involve complex social, political, technical and economic challenges and constraints. Consideration for an approach to the resulting increase in water demand from adjacent new/proposed development would also affect domestic demand which would need to be balanced through CAP allocations. There is a conceptual project for the western reach of the Gila River that was recommended by the 2006 El Rio Watercourse Master Plan and could be similar in size to Tempe Town Lake.  Maricopa County, the Cities of Goodyear and Avondale, and the Buckeye Water Conservation District signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2018 and coordinated an initial feasibility study for a recreational lake and flood control facility at the confluence of 3 rivers in Goodyear.  Partner organizations released the study in 2020 and are considering next steps for the project.

What’s Next?

Since the Launch of the Project in 2018, this long-term urban planning effort has received tremendous support and enthusiasm from the community. Project stakeholders are carrying on the challenging and time-consuming work of a comprehensive visioning framework process that will define a master plan for the Rio Reimagined.

Participation in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Urban Waters Partnership, as the 20th national river revitalization project, provides access to an expansive network of resources that will assist our community with planning, funding, research and outreach.

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