Gila River Restoration

Buckeye, Arizona

An invasive species of tree called that Tamarix, or, also known as Salt Cedar, was slowly choking the Gila River, Arizona’s second-largest river. These fast-growing, high-salt content trees had become a scourge to aquatic life, as well as to the surrounding riverbanks and inland areas – so much so that the region between the river and Buckeye had evolved into a federal floodplain, causing a devaluation of property and a host of economic development obstacles.

Michael Baker led the entire planning process in partnership with the city and developed a master plan, title “Reclaim the River; Enliven the Banks: A Vision Plan for Buckeye’s El Rio District.” Overall, the master plan lays out regional goals to return the Gila River to its natural condition by restoring riparian habitats and, in turn, leveraging those assets to enhance the local recreation and economic development potential of lands adjacent to the river.

The master plan fused urban design principles, a river restoration program, sand-and-gravel reclamation guidelines and local community dialogue to create a framework for change within the study area. Other innovative components of the project included:

  • Developing a unique “planning continuum” of new land uses
  • Creating specific regulatory procedures for the preservation and restoration of high-quality river habitat
  • Identifying Salt Cedar management methods
  • Designing flood-protection measures
  • Incorporating active and passive recreational opportunities

One of the most visible and high-impact innovations came with the transformation of abandoned sand-and-gravel mining pits into lakefront centers for recreation and economic development. As mining operations cease operations, it leaves open bodies of water behind. Michael Baker’s work, and the work of its partners, focused on developing guidelines that did not impede sand and gravel operations to create an environment to allow them to have a second life after mining operations ceased. To date, developers have reclaimed and developed the land around at least one of the former sand-and-gravel pits. Now area residents enjoy concerts, fishing and other forms of recreation along an attractive waterfront venue.


“Developing the tools to help return the Gila River to a healthy state over time, along with the positive development and regional participation we’ve seen, will ultimately benefit the city of Buckeye.”

Kevin K.
Project Director

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