Gravity draws water from the mountains east and north of the Salt River Valley into the gently sloping landscape of the Phoenix metropolitan region. Ancient Native Americans whom we call the Hohokam built canals to harness this water to irrigate their crops. The Valley's modern canals are an extension of this ancient system. The Arizona Canal was built to provide water for farmers in the northern valley, while the Grand Canal's supplies water to farmlands in the west valley. The “Old” Crosscut Canal was built in 1888 to bring water from the Arizona Canal to the Grand Canal.

The Salt River Valley Water Users' Association (SRVWUA, later, Salt River Project or SRP) formed in 1910 through a contract between valley water users and the United States Reclamation Service. It constructed the "New" Crosscut Canal in 1912-1913 to . The SRVWUA recognized the value of the canal not only for providing water but also for creating electricity from the energy created as water dropped 112 feet before pouring in to the Grand Canal. In 1913, the SRVWUA constructed the Crosscut Hydro Generating facility. SRP selected the location for the canal and the power plant because two major electric distribution lines passed nearby that connected the “Arizona Falls” Hydro Generating Plant with the south side of the system and the main power lines from Roosevelt Dam to Phoenix adding the electricity produced by the Crosscut facility to the growing system.

In response to population growth and increased demand, SRP expanded and diversified its electricity-producing capabilities in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The relatively small hydro generating plants at Crosscut and Arizona Falls became secondary to larger power plants that burned coal or natural gas. Nevertheless, Crosscut continued to provide important benefits to SRP's power system by generating power during "peak" times, like the summer, when residents ran their air conditioning to deal with the heat.Today, the hydroelectric generation plants is on standby, ready to go to work when its needed.

The Crosscut canal also serves other needs. It supplies water to the Tempe water treatment plant, Papago ponds, Phoenix Zoo, and creates a pleasant stream and riparian area for the park. It remains a testament to the importance of water for life in the desert--for drinking but also for lighting our homes and powering our modern lives.


Crosscut Hydroelectric Generation Plant 1913-1914. The 1914 brick style building the Salt River Project Cross Cut Power Plant is noteworthy and is the only hydroelectric structure of its kind remaining in the Salt River Valley. Arizona Historical Society
Crosscut hydro generating facility before expansion, ca. 1940. Arizona Historical Society
Expansion of the generating facility. Arizona Historical Society
Integrated diesel and steam building, 1958. SRP operated a diesel-powered generator and steam generation facility in 1937. By 1974, both were deemed obsolete and removed. Their construction testifies to the dynamic history of trying to meet ever-growing power demands of the region with diverse power sources during the mid-twentieth century. Arizona Historical Society
As gravity pulled water through the hydroelectric turbines within the brick structure, the plant generated as much as 3,000 kilowatts of electricity--enough for about 3000 homes. Arizona Historical Society
Frequency changer within the brick structure, ca. 1940. Arizona Historical Society
Aerial view of reservoir and buried penstock, ca. 1950s. The Crosscut canal flows downhill from the bottom right side of the photo into the reservoir where it is held until it is needed to produce power. It then flows downhill through a giant pipe or "penstock" to turn turbines in the buildings in the top of the photo and produce electricity. Arizona Historical Society
Inside the penstocks, 1941. These large concrete pipes were built in 1913. They were 2,240 feet long drop and 112 feet from the reservoir to the hydroelectric plant. The weight of water flowing downhill created tremendous pressure which turned turbines to generate electricity. Arizona Historical Society
Crosscut Generating Plant, 1989. By the late 20th century, SRP relied on hydroelectric power only to meet peak needs. During the summer, when Valley residents ran their air conditioners, electricity from the Crosscut facility helped meek the power flowing. Arizona Historical Society
Crosscut facility, 1990: Roles at the Crosscut facility have continued to change since the early 1950's. Although the diesel and steam units are no longer in service, the hydro plant still produces power during the hot summer months to meet electrical demands. Arizona Historical Society
Crosscut generating facility, 2014. Photo by author.
Water exiting the Crosscut facility into the Grand Canal, 2014. Water emerges from the turbines unchanged making hydro-electric generation along the Valley's canals a clean, renewable form of power. Photo by author.
Water flows from the Crosscut facility creating a pleasant stream that runs through Moeur Park in Tempe near the intersection of Mill and Curry Avenues, 2014. Photo by author.
Looking south over the reservoir at the Crosscut facility, 2014. Photo by author.
Canal Map 2012 showing the Crosscut Canal: Used courtesy of SRP.
Crosscut reservoir, 2014. Photo by author.



Eric Begody and Cody Ferguson, “Putting Water to Work,” Salt River Stories, accessed October 1, 2023,