Santa Cruz River Heritage Project takes another big step by bringing back minnows

Santa Cruz River Heritage Project takes another big step by bringing back minnows

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - It might be only an inch long, but there is a fish that has a long history in the heart of the Old Pueblo that died more than a century ago.

In the ongoing effort to bring a portion of the Santa Cruz River back to life, Monday, Oct. 26, marked an historic milestone involving this little minnow.

Mayor Regina Romero was given the honors of reintroducing the Gila topminnow into the flowing waters of the Santa Cruz River in downtown Tucson.

“It’s a win for the city of Tucson, it’s a win for wildlife and the environment and it’s a win for the river," Romero said.

It’s the first time in more than 100 years the Gila topminnow is swimming again in this section of the Santa Cruz.

“It’s a very historic thing,” said Mark Hart with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. "Much like it was when we put Bighorn Sheep back up in the Catalinas and what’s really important is we’re restoring a native species to its home range.

The topminnow is endangered and hopefully with efforts like this it’ll eventually be delisted.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department stocked more than 500 endangered Gila topminnow to the Santa Cruz River in Tucson Monday, Oct. 26.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department stocked more than 500 endangered Gila topminnow to the Santa Cruz River in Tucson Monday, Oct. 26. (Source: KOLD News 13)

Earlier in the day, biologists with Arizona Game and Fish, the University of Arizona’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment, and the Sonoran Institute captured about 550 of the endangered species near the Tumacacori Mission north of Nogales in another portion of the river.

It’s a delicate operation.

Every precaution is taken to keep the fish alive through the stressful netting process and drive back to where they are placed back in the water the Heritage Project in downtown Tucson.

During the summer of 2019, Tucson Water began pumping reclaimed water into the dry river bed near the Cushing Street Bridge, providing lush vegetation for wildlife to thrive.

“This is what we’ve been dreaming about the last year and a half,” said Michael Bogan, an aquatics biologist and assistant professor at the University of Arizona.

He’s become an expert here, spending countless hours documenting the returning wildlife, and said this little fish will have a big impact.

“It restores ecological function so these fish will help eat mosquitos, they’ll help to contribute too as a food source for birds and other parts of the ecosystem. But I think there’s an important cultural part of it as well, that, this is part of our biocultural heritage; these native species that we had in Tucson so bringing them back is wonderful,” Bogan said.

In addition to providing a tranquil setting to enjoy year-round and an excellent spot for birding, the flow from the Heritage Project seeps back into the soil to replenish groundwater.

Bogan said he wants to remind everyone that it’s incredibly important to avoid releasing any aquatic pets, like turtles or fish, or other plant life into the Santa Cruz which could endanger the native species that have come back.

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