Filed Under Water

Central Arizona Project

The Salt River Valley has a long history of agricultural production. The ancient canal systems were hand built long before the age of electricity.

Fast forward to 1920 and the round table of George H. Maxwell and Arizona state representative Fred T. Colter, both of whom had experience with canals and water usage in central Arizona. The men proposed a solution to provide water to the arid valley known originally as the “Arizona High Line Canal.” The plan, although never executed, was essentially the same as what would become the “Central Arizona Project.” At the time though, at least three different agencies conducting studies did not see the project as feasible.

By 1944, the state of Arizona had ratified the Colorado River Compact and negotiated with Mexico to allocate an amount of water to them each year. Once this happened, Arizona state legislature granted two hundred thousand dollars for research on possible water diversion from the Colorado River to Phoenix.

Unfortunately politics, bureaucracy, and the passing of the National Environment Protection Act (NEPA) delayed construction on the Central Arizona Project for a number of years. Finally, in the summer of 1973, ground was broken at Lake Havasu where the site of the first pumping station would be located.

The Hayden-Rhodes section west of Phoenix was completed in mid-1985. The remaining sixty miles into Phoenix were completed shortly thereafter, bringing the first Colorado River water into Phoenix by November of that year.

An integral part of the Central Arizona Project is often forgotten simply because of its geographical location. The Navajo Generating Station, a coal burning power plant in Page, Arizona, provides the power necessary to pump water up a startling 1500 feet in elevation.

On October 1st, 1993, the Bureau of Reclamation declared the Central Arizona Project “Substantially Finished”, at least for use in the Phoenix metro area and west of there. Plans would eventually be made to extend the canal to the Tucson metro area, where it ends today; currently, Tucson mainly uses the water for groundwater recharge and not municipal or agricultural use.

With the project's completion, water continues to be a valuable commodity in the desert environment. Without this project, Phoenix would not have been able to expand to its current population. This project is not only an engineering marvel, but it helped create one of the largest urban growth rates of our time.



Fighting For Water
Fighting For Water An editorial cartoon in the Arizona Republic expresses the view from Arizona that California was demanding too much access to Colorado River Water in the wake of the creation of the Central Arizona Project. Source: MSS-55, Arizona Collection, Department of Archives and Special Collections, Arizona State University Libraries Creator: Reg Manning Date: November 14, 1962



Joshua Gilmore , Jacquelyn George, and Salt River Stories Team, “Central Arizona Project,” Salt River Stories, accessed June 24, 2024,