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, 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  community input and engagement in existing and potential projects continues to expand and enrich the long-term planning process.

What is 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, State and Federal agencies to discuss opportunities and challenges associated with the complexities of the initiative. Presentations and ‘best practices’ discussion 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 expanded to include diverse representation from private sector, non-profits, and community at large.  If you are interested in attending these on-line b-monthly meetings, please email  and we will send you a meeting notice/link.

What is Arizona State University’s (ASU) role?

In Spring 2017, the late U.S. Senator John McCain asked his friend and colleague Dr. Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, to bring ASU’s research expertise, organizational resources and experience with large-scale urban planning projects to the Rio Reimagined initiative. ASU’s University City Exchange office, part 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. In its capacity as a pro bono facilitator and early planning catalyst, ASU upholds its charter to assume responsibility “for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves.”As organizational structure(non-profit, staff) materializes for RIO, ASU’s role will revert to a support mechanism for partners through faculty, staff and student assets.


What are the RIO’s geographic boundaries?

Initial planning 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 to two miles from both banks of the river, which creates a substantive and diverse planning and programming scope for stakeholders. While this is an initiative with substantive opportunities for leveraged outcomes at regional scale, 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.

One of 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 Restoration project which rehabilitated nearly 700 acres in and around the Salt River at 91st Avenue, restoring 52 acres of vital wetlands. It is the fourth largest constructed wetland in the U.S. and created significant riparian habitat that results in increased, ecotourism. The Tres Rios Wetlands project created a unique mutually beneficial relationship between the riparian habitat and an adjacent wastewater treatment plant serving several growing cities in the metro region.

Since 2018 when Rio Reimagined began, well over $2 million in federal and state funding has contributed to a wide variety of projects in the corridor to address extreme heat, water quality, environmental education, river health, food insecurity, homelessness, fire reduction and habitat protection. Federal infrastructure funding for a pedestrian/bike bridge, regional active transportation priorities and municipal prioritization of land acquisition along the corridor are recent wins for RIO partners.  This is just the beginning.  Join our mailing list and/or get involved in an upcoming project or event in your river corridor.

Check out our Projects page for more information.

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

There is no current master planned design for Rio Reimagined as we are still in an early and major discovery and collaboration phase, which requires significant community input and engagement.  Other river revitalization plans from urban communities across the country have integrated multiple and diverse objectives such as public open space, environmental and water quality, housing, transportation, economic development, workforce development, community health and resilience. Revitalization must include 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 rivers and watershed. The following high-level principles are general working guidelines that will evolve with the community’s priorities:

  • Establish a Multi-Jurisdictional Vision for the Future
  • Reconnect the Community to the River & its Origin
  • Restore the Value of the River & Adjacent Sites
  • Feature Impactful & Instructive Sustainable Elements
  • Build an Unprecedented Regional Destination
  • Be a Catalyst for Economic Growth and Inclusion
  • Establish the Highest Design Expectations


Why is the Salt River dry as it traverses through the metro Phoenix region?

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 water in the Salt River into two major canals, the Arizona and Southern, which 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 (SRP), a federal reclamation project that manages much of the Valley’s surface and ground water supplies. Downstream of the diversion dam, the Salt River is mostly dry, except for rain, storm or agricultural runoff or releases from the dam. The Salt River joins the Gila on the southwestern side of the Valley. Large diversion and flood control engineering projects have also significantly reduced historic flows of the Gila River, a large tributary of the Colorado River.


What are the primary challenges of a master 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, Community, Funding, 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, prioritizing solutions that are designed and led at the neighborhood-level. 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.  Lastly, land ownership along the river corridor is highly variable – with large percentages owned by federal agencies and private-sector businesses – which adds complexity to planning, access and revitalization.

Can water be obtained to create public water amenities like 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, Central Arizona Project (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 completed 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 are the next steps for the Rio Partnership?

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.

RIO’s participation in federal programs like the Environmental Protection Agency’s Urban Waters Partnership, as the 20th national river revitalization project in 2020, continues to provide access to an expansive network of technical and financial resources that will assist our community with planning, funding, research and outreach.

While ASU and RIO partners continue to work on the initiative, there are ongoing efforts by leaders in the community to form a new non-profit, social impact organization to support the long-term sustainability of Rio Reimagined.  Dedicated professional staff employed by the non-profit, will ensure a healthy and sustained focus on programs, funding, engagement, communication and public events. This organizational structure will empower RIO and its future.

Stay involved and informed…join our mailing list on our project website. We look forward to your input and engagement in your Rio Reimagined.

Learn more:

Urban Waters Partnership
Rio Salado/Rio Reimagined Urban Waters
RIO Partners

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