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Monsoon floods uncover years of trash and debris

Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 7:17 PM MST|Updated: Jul. 22, 2021 at 7:18 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Monsoon 2019 and 2020 were weak and flooding was a non-issue.

But this year’s weather pattern resembles 2006, when the three-month season dumped 10 inches of rain in the Old Pueblo.

That means all the trash and debris accumulated in the past two seasons is finally being washed away.

“It’s kind of what we’ve been waiting for, for what we call a flush,” said Joseph Cuffari, a spokesperson for the Pima County Flood Control District. “For the water to come through and flush all this material, trash and debris into upstream areas where we can collect it all at once.”

While flooding can clean up a wide riverbed, it can be catastrophic for narrow washes, culverts and bridges.

“What we’re really focused on right now are those tributary areas, the areas that contribute to the major water courses,” Cuffari said.

A plugged-up culvert caused a 2017 flood in the midtown area, destroying Tucson High’s brand artificial turf football field.

“One of our main goals is public safety and to reduce the health hazard for people,” he said.

But there are so many culverts and washes experiencing problems right now, the county doesn’t have the staff to keep up. It’s considering prison help to clean up and maintain the washes before trouble begins.

Generally, the county will let most debris in the wider riverbeds accumulate downstream and when it dries, crews will use heavy machinery to clean it up.

But sometimes it can’t wait.

“If there’s an issue with our infrastructure, bank protection starts to fail, the hand railing starts to cave in or we see a refrigerator come through and completely block one of our access points, then we will go in and remove that,” he said.

The county spends about $200,000 annually to keep the waterways free of debris and trash.

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