San Pedro River, Arizona

San Pedro River, Arizona. Photo by Charlotte Overby

The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is a 57,000-acre desert river area in southern Arizona that is an incredibly important place for wildlife, especially migrating and wintering birds. The San Pedro River basin is culturally vibrant; Apache were early inhabitants of the region, and the area also has intact remains of the Spanish Presidio Santa Cruz de Terrenante, a 1770s Spanish fortress marking the northern extension of New Spain.

The San Pedro River is the last, major free-flowing undammed river in the American southwest. It flows north from its headwaters in Mexico and joins the Gila River, which flows west to the Colorado. With more people settling in the area and new development, however, people are tapping into and depleting underground aquifers that supply the river.

Opportunities for Better Protecting the San Pedro River

  • The National Riparian Service Team—which is a collaborative designed to provide assistance to people and communities with place-based problem solving, training, assessment, monitoring and grazing management as it relates to to riparian-wetland resources (rivers) in their area, issued a report on the condition of the San Pedro River. The report covers each of the river’s 10 reaches, an overview on its current condition, and ways the river can be helped. This can become a road map for local entities to take actions that improve flows and river habitat.
  • Friends of the San Pedro River volunteers take hundreds of people who come from all over the U.S. (and around the world) on bird-watching hikes. Members give input to local Bureau of Land Management employees as they begin writing a new Resource Management Plan, as well run a bookstore and visitors center at the area headquarters.

Who’s doing what, where, on the San Pedro?

Maps, Video and Stories

Here is a short video showing some sites and sounds of the San Pedro River (accompanied by a short piece of “Shady Grove,” performed by The Rank Sinatras.)

News articles

This is what the National Riparian Team told the community about the over-all condition and outlook for the river.

Journalist and blogger Jim Gressinger, writing for, describes A Day At The River.

Emily Guerin, writing for The High Country News’ blog, The Goat Blog, reports on a new building development that is threatening the river and a controversial decision by the Arizona Department of Water Resources to approve groundwater pumping that could deplete the river’s water.

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