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.