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City gets national recognition for East Wetlands
The city of Yuma's Utilities Department has netted national recognition for its role in bringing millions of gallons of fresh water each week to the Yuma East Wetlands.
The American Public Works Association (APWA) has named the East Wetlands flow augmentation project as the national Public Works Project of the Year in the category of projects less than $2 million. The city will receive its plaque in August at APWA's national conference in New Orleans.
This comes on the heels of the project's recent award from the Arizona Chapter of APWA, when the flow augmentation project was selected as this year's recipient of the Public Works Project of the Year in the Environment in the same category.
"The wetlands is an important project on so many levels," said Kathleen Carroll, water treatment manager for the city. "People come from everywhere to learn about this project and all that it took to put it together. But this was really groundbreaking, and we think it's worthy of national recognition. We get calls from other cities asking 'What did you do?'"
The award announcement comes just days after the binational Common Ground conference, where various aspects of the East Wetlands restoration project were discussed.
The East Wetlands restoration project consists of 1,400 acres of land between the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge and the confluence of the Colorado and Gila rivers.
The city is augmenting water flows to 25 acres, using drinking water, about 500,000 gallons a day, that has been used to backwash sand filters at the city's treatment plant, Carroll said. By returning this water to the Colorado River, the city gets return flow credits, meaning it costs the city little to reuse the water for the restoration.
"Typically in the Colorado River when the flows go down, water evaporates, and what's left there gets saltier and saltier, and nothing grows but trash," Carroll said. "By augmenting the flows into the back channels, we can keep them flushed and keep everything growing."
The project required the city to obtain discharge permit, the first to successfully use criteria for Net Ecological Benefit provisions granted by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Carroll said, even though NEB provisions have been a part of Arizona state law for years.
Once the flow augmentation began, it was only a matter of days before bird species that had abandoned the area rediscovered it and started reappearing, Carroll said.
"Five years ago, this area was overrun by transients and trash. It was ugly and it was dangerous, and we've turned this into something really nice."
There's more to come, said Charles Flynn, executive director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, which oversees the wetlands restoration project. An additional 20 acres along a levee has been recently cleared and is next to receive flows from the city's water.
"What we've done in this one 25-acre area just says so much about our community," Carroll said. "I think it's our opportunity to give something to Yuma that's really lasting. This is a place you can go see birds you wouldn't see anyplace else; you can see what the river is supposed to look like. It's an educational thing as well as recreational."
Sun staff writer Joyce Lobeck contributed to this report. She can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6853.