Pima County protects areas near Bighorn Fire from flooding

Pima Wash
Posted at 8:46 AM, May 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-23 11:46:07-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — It can happen in a matter of minutes. Floods often follow when monsoon rolls through Southern Arizona.

"We're surrounded by mountains, so the flash flood threat is real in Pima County," said Pima County Regional Flood Control District Program Manager, Joseph Cuffari.

The threat is even bigger for parts of Pima County that have been impacted by wildfire.

"When we experience such erratic and active fire behavior, it can basically just moonscape the area. The means there is nothing left. There is no vegetation. There are no trees. The fire burned down to that mineral soil. When we get ​intense rains, like we see during monsoon season, there isn't anything to stop that rainfall from coming down the hillside," said Tiffany Davila with the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

The Pima Wash could be hit hard as a result of the Bighorn Fire. If it were to flood, the Pima County Regional Flood Control District anticipates there could be up to $6 million in damages.

"What we were concerned about, and what our models showed, was if trees and vegetation were to dam up, we would see a big over-topping of the Pima Wash banks," said Cuffari.

In May 2021, crews got to work.

"We did some channel capacity improvements and installed a 5 to 10 foot berm to contain the water if an over-topping were to occur," said Cuffari.

Sediment was also removed from the bottom of the wash to encourage proper water flow. The project was funded by a federal grant in response to the Bighorn Fire.

"Pima County is a national leader when it comes to flood plain management. We are one of the highest rated communities in the nation. We're in the top 1%," said Cuffair.

It won't be long until the county's hard work is finally put to the test.

"We're waiting for this monsoon season to see how our improvements benefit this area," said Cuffari.