Why Waterways?


In the arid Southwest, our waterways are essential to life. They supply our water, offer a sense of place for communities, provide opportunities for recreation and tourism and serve as a healthy ecosystem for wildlife. But without the confluence of people who come together to restore and protect these crucial resources, our vitality as a state is at risk.


Each year, more than 1.5 million residents experience our waterways, contributing approximately $13.5 billion to our state’s economy.


Rio Salado

Rio Salado

Tempe Town Lake is Arizona’s second most popular public attraction, generating nearly $2 billion in economic impact since its opening

Rio Reimagined

Rio Reimagined

Driven by the vision of late Senator John McCain, the next generation of Arizona’s urban waterways is realized

Santa Cruz Heritage River Project

Santa Cruz Heritage River Project

Once serving as a central hub to irrigate crops, this revitalized canal system flows again to help a community grow and thrive

Verde River Waterways

Verde River Waterways

A unique riparian ecosystem supports local communities, wildlife and flora along its 192-mile flow

Collaboration ensures the future of our waterways

Past and ongoing projects


To ensure the vitality of our waterways, we need a collective effort of businesses, municipalities and environmental and non-profit organizations to integrate priorities of public open space, environmental quality and community sustainability and resilience.




This project required buy-in from multiple municipalities, state and federal governments and surrounding communities. Arizona Forward played an integral role, fostering collaboration among stakeholders and writing legislation for the Rio Salado Development District. Giving rise to Tempe Town Lake, this project continues to generate revitalization projects including the Audubon and Liberty Wildlife facilities, as well as the Tres Rios Restoration.


Driven by the vision of the late Senator John McCain, Rio Reimagined is fashioned after Rio Salado. This revitalization initiative spans 58 miles from Granite Reef Dam to State Route 85, next to the Rio Salado and Gila River. Eight communities along the river will oversee the creation as they partner with statewide and federal entities. Arizona Forward enthusiastically supports this project by contributing key insights gained from the original Rio Salado project and hosting a Statewide Sustainability Summit with community leaders and stakeholders.


Arizona Forward supports this milestone initiative for the Tucson area. Flowing again after decades of misuse, this waterway brings year-round flow that feeds native vegetation and wildlife, as well as provides recreational and economic opportunities for its communities. As one of Tucson’s largest water conservation initiatives, the project uses existing infrastructure to supply recycled water and preserve the future resiliency of its local water system.


From its headwaters near Paulden to its confluence with the Salt River outside Phoenix, the Verde River passes through pinyon-juniper woodlands, the Cottonwood-Willow stand and mixed-broadleaf forest land, winding down to the Sonoran Desert, in the heart of Arizona. Arizona Forward has long supported the vision of the Verde River that is made possible by the collaborative efforts from local, statewide, and national stakeholders.


Changes in the ecosystem and lack of restoration can negatively impact communities

  • Increased risk of flooding
  • Lost opportunities for recreational, historical and cultural activities due to loss of river access
  • Increased risks of wildfire from lack of water flow and other adverse effects from a change in ecosystem
  • Unidentified risks from climate impacts that result in lasting damage to the ecosystem
  • Accumulation of sedimentation that decreases water supplies


Restoring and preserving  Arizona’s waterways is crucial to revitalizing and tapping into the economic benefits these waterways bring to our state. Working together with federal and state agencies, businesses, nonprofit groups, private landowners and our surrounding communities creates a strong coalition to ensure that these waterways thrive for generations to come.

Arizona Forward’s Role

Help our waterways flow and thrive


We foster the collaborative efforts to protect and restore our natural and urban waterways that provide a catalyst for economic growth and a healthy ecosystem for habitat.

Arizona Forward accomplishes this through action:

  • Leading the way in the formation of the Rio Salado project and other related projects
  • Showcasing successful projects and recognizing leaders that exemplify our values at our annual Environmental Excellence awards program
  • Providing leadership-Arizona Forward’s CEO is a participating member of the Rio Reimagined task force, created by the Mayor of Phoenix


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