Filed Under Water

The Valley's Canal System

There's an old joke about Arizonans and their rivers. An Arizona man is on vacation in Germany, and he visits the Rhine River. "Isn't it beautiful?" one admirer asks. The desert dweller responds, "Sure, but I can't see the river with all this water in the way!"

The joke reveals the complex ways that water structures the Sonoran Desert and the lives of its peoples. Water follows a complex cycle, one that has been altered by human settlement.

Presently, Phoenix receives its water from the Salt River Watershed as well as the far-off Colorado River through an intricate network of canals, many of which are still a visible part of the landscape.

Groundwater reserves are another significant supply source for Arizona, with 40% percent of its water coming from aquifers. Water enters underground through recharge along mountains, recharge from streams, or artificial recharge, and leaves through wells, discharge to streams, or riparian plants. Another 39% of Arizona's water comes from the Colorado River, which also flows through six other states and Mexico. More than a century of water rights cases have been filed to determine how much each state and the two nations can claim from the river.

edited 01/24/2020:wt


Water Drops into the Valley Dewey, a water droplet, tells us how she arrived in the Arizona Canal, taking us on a tour of Arizona's water resources. Written by John Larsen Southard; narrated by Megan Keough. Recorded at Scottsdale Channel 11; courtesy of the Papago Salado Association.


Arizona Canal at Scottsdale and Camelback Roads
Arizona Canal at Scottsdale and Camelback Roads The Arizona Canal stretches almost 40 miles, beginning at the Granite Reef Dam north of Mesa and ending at 75th Avenue and Greenway in Peoria. It has irrigated nearby residential and agricultural areas since 1883. Source: SCOT-HIS-2009-1303, Scottsdale Public Library Date: 1990
Scraping the Canals
Scraping the Canals Building the canal system demanded extensive physical labor as work crews cleared the canals with animals and scrapers. Source: HAER-AZ-19-6; Historic American Engineering Record, Library of Congress Date: 1908
The Arizona Canal
The Arizona Canal Regional planners, communities, and corporations have been working with cities and developers to transform the Valley's canals, in hopes of recovering their former vibrancy as a center of the community. Canals now have recreational trails and pathways, and developers are creating office spaces and retail developments featuring the canals' natural beauty. Source: SCOT-HIS-2012-2458; Scottsdale Public Library Date: 1996
Scottsdale Flood Damage
Scottsdale Flood Damage As the city was developing, floods regularly occurred along the Indian Bend Wash, which runs through central Scottsdale. On June 22, 1972, the Indian Bend Wash backed up behind the Arizona Canal (shown here at Bonita and 74th street) causing the most disastrous flood in Scottsdale's history. With the help of the Army Corps of Engineers, the city developed a four-phase plan for flood control. In addition to reinforcing the canals, the city created the Scottsdale Greenbelt, an eleven-square-mile recreation area with parks and golf courses that doubles as a floodway. Source: CCL-HIS-2018-0504; Scottsdale Public Library Date: 1972
Orchards In the first half of the twentieth century, the canal system transported water for agricultural use in the Valley, including water used for widespread citrus orchards, as seen here with Camelback Mountain in the background. Agriculture continues to use a high percentage of water in Central Arizona. Source: HAER-AZ-19-9; Historic American Engineering Record, Library of Congress. Date: 1915



Michelle Bickert, Mark Tebeau, and The Story Tour Team, “The Valley's Canal System,” Salt River Stories, accessed March 2, 2024,