The canals that run throughout the Valley are perhaps the most visible reminders of the complex interactions between human settlement and the environment of the Sonoran Desert.
A complex irrigation system conceived and dug by people between the 7th and 14th centuries informed the location of canals dug by Anglo settlers in the region in the 19th century. Drawing initially on the Salt River, Salt River Project (SRP) developed the canals extensively in the early twentieth century and expanded the system to more than 130 miles. Farms and communities received water from the canals through gates that opened the flow of water to lateral ditches. Roads were built alongside the laterals, which became the basis for the region's network of north-south streets. Over the past 30 years, most of these laterals have been piped, erasing the visibility of laterals, leaving the canals as the most obvious element of the region's complex system of waterways.
The control and use of water shaped not only the region's landscapes but became a necessary foundation for its economic and social development. Recovering stories of water through the canals helps explain how the metropolitan region emerged in the midst of the Sonoran Desert of the Salt River Valley.