A History of Service
From the early Hohokam to the first settlers, Salt River Project’s (SRP) history is unique. Read below to see how an idea for a dam became the nation’s third largest public power utility and one of Arizona’s largest water suppliers.
300 - 1450
The Hohokam build 500 miles of irrigation ditches with stone and wooden tools and then inexplicably vanish. Their system served as many as 50,000 people and set the groundwork for today’s canal system.
1860 - 1880
Mining and agricultural development in Arizona increases with an influx of settlers. Among them, John W. "Jack" Swilling, who is inspired by the Hohokam’s ancient canal system and launches the Swilling Irrigating Canal Company.
The Swilling Irrigating Canal Company digs the Salt River Valley Canal in 1867. The revitalized irrigation system entices more people to settle in the area.
Drought threatens life in the Valley despite an advanced irrigation system and settlers search for a reliable water source. Tonto Basin is identified as an ideal location for a dam, but financing to build proves difficult to secure. Meanwhile, a national movement grows for federal financing of water reclamation projects.
The National Reclamation Act is signed into law by visionary president Theodore Roosevelt. Water reclamation projects are now possible through government financing. Drought continues in the Salt River Valley and a reliable water supply is desperately needed.
Ranchers and farmers pledged their own land as collateral in order to obtain a loan through the National Reclamation Act to build a dam at the Tonto Basin site. The group forms the Salt River Valley Water Users’ Association.
On Sep. 20 the U.S. Reclamation Service places the six-ton cornerstone of Theodore Roosevelt Dam at the Tonto dam site. Stones for the dam are cut out of the canyon walls and set in cement manufactured at the site. Round the clock work is interrupted by several powerful floods. In order to meet the challenges of the remote location, a hydroelectric generator is built at the site to facilitate construction of the dam.
Excess power from Theodore Roosevelt Dam is delivered to irrigation pumps and other customers in the Salt River Valley, thus establishing hydropower as a "paying partner" for the water reclamation project.
More than 4,500 landowners are made party to the lawsuit Hurley vs. Abbot in order to settle water rights in the Valley. Presiding judge Edward H. Kent's decision, later called the Kent Decree, establishes how much water different areas of land will receive from the Salt and Verde rivers.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt arrives in Arizona to dedicate Theodore Roosevelt Dam on March 18, 1911. In his speech, Roosevelt names the National Reclamation Act and the Panama Canal as two of the greatest accomplishments of his administration.
At the time of the dedication, Roosevelt Lake is less than half full, but contains more than 500,000 acre-feet of water and reaches 160 feet up the dam. It is enough water to sustain the Salt River Valley with two full years of irrigation, even if there were no further inflow.
Hydropower continues to be key and contracts for supplying power to the mining industry, including one with the Inspiration Consolidating Copper Company of Miami, ensure the vitality of SRP’s electric system.
The Salt River Valley Water Users' Association (Association), which acted as a liaison to the U.S. Reclamation Service, receives operational control of SRP's water and power facilities.
In the Association's contract with the federal government, the United States retains title to the dams, canals and hydropower plants, and SRP remains a federal reclamation project and is able to reinvest power revenues into the project. SRP's headquarters are located at Van Buren Street and 2nd Avenue in Phoenix.
SRP shareholders construct drains and install pumps to remove rising groundwater. An earlier studied had shown that the water table was rising at a rate of 1.5 feet per year resulting in waterlogged soil. This increased ground water left behind salt deposits rendering the land useless.
Further advancing the "paying partnership" of power and water, SRP's General Superintendent C.C. Cragin designs a plan to finance and build three additional dams along the Salt River to increase hydroelectric generating capabilities. The dams included Mormon Flat Dam in 1925, Horse Mesa Dam in 1927, and Stewart Mountain Dam in 1930.
Approximately 1,000 shareholders request electric farm service, so SRP embarks on an effort to extend electricity service to a growing residential and rural customer base. SRP's effort precedes the New Deal rural electrification project by 10 years.
In an effort to supplement its workforce during the Depression, SRP contracts with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to conduct maintenance and construction work on the canal system. In less than three years, men from the CCC complete over 700 separate jobs working with SRP and for the Valley community.
The CCC crews projects included: building fences, creating trails for trucks, constructing levees or dykes, clearing laterals, lining and piping waterways, or upgrading water control structures with stone masonry or rubble lining.
Maricopa County authorizes the formation of the second part of SRP, the Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District. The District is formed as a political subdivision of the state of Arizona.
The District is able to issue municipal bonds and proceeds from these bonds are used to redeem outstanding higher-interest bonds, thus assuring the financial health of SRP during the Depression and into the future.
SRP receives approval to dam the Verde River through the construction of Bartlett Dam. The dam is erected in 1,000 days and completed in 1939. Bartlett Dam is the first multiple-arch dam the Bureau of Reclamation constructs in the nation.
The new dam results in improved water supplies, while simultaneously providing much needed labor opportunities for unemployed Arizonans.
During WWII, SRP receives help from the local prisoner of war camps in the Salt River Valley. German and Italian POWs work on SRP's water transmission and distribution system.
SRP and Phelps Dodge negotiate the building of Horseshoe Dam, the second dam on the Verde River and the sixth storage dam in the water transmission and distribution system.
The Phelps Dodge Corporation pays for the dam with financing from the federal Defense Plant Corporation in order to supply enough water to Phelps Dodge copper mines to meet WWII production needs.
The District, which was established in 1937, becomes the entity responsible for the operation and maintenance of the power system. The Association continues to operate and maintain the water transmission and distribution system.
After WWII, SRP enters into contracts with the cities to deliver water to the rapidly urbanizing Salt River Valley. The first domestic water agreement is with the City of Phoenix in 1952.
Under these contracts, the cities are able to divert water from SRP canals at selected sites in order to deliver domestic water to SRP lands within their municipal boundaries. These contracts provide a stable water supply to the cities as SRP's service territory transitions from predominately agricultural to urban users.
During the post-WWII era, SRP builds three steam-generating stations in the Phoenix metropolitan area to keep pace with growth. The first facility is the Kyrene Generating Station built between 1952 and 1954. The other generating stations include Agua Fria (1957-1961) and Santan (1972-1975).
The original $10.3 million debt on Theodore Roosevelt Dam and associated works are repaid to the federal government.
SRP partners with other utility companies to coordinate the development of a regional power system that includes power plants and miles of long-distance transmission lines.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1968 Colorado River Basin Project Act, which authorizes the construction of the Central Arizona Project (CAP). CAP is another major water construction and management project in Arizona and SRP lobbied heavily for its passage.
The first of three Navajo Generating Station (NGS) units are completed followed by the second and third units in 1975 and 1976.
NGS in Page, Arizona is the biggest construction project SRP has ever attempted for a consortium of owners. Built on land within the Navajo Indian Reservation, the project launches a long, favorable and educational relationship between SRP and the Navajo Nation.
The Reclamation Safety of Dams Act is passed authorizing work at 17 Western reclamation dams to bring them up to state-of-the-art safety standards.
This Act and a reauthorization in 1984 eventually lead to funding of more than $400 million in improvements at Stewart Mountain and Theodore Roosevelt dams on the Salt River, and Bartlett and Horseshoe dams on the Verde River.
The Coronado Generating Station Unit One is completed near St. Johns, Arizona.
For the first time in its history, SRP's urban water use surpasses agricultural use, with 55 percent of its water deliveries going to urban areas and 45 percent of deliveries going to agricultural customers.
A weed control pilot program is launched and includes a unique solution - the introduction of over 1,700 white amur into portions of the Tempe and Crosscut canals. The white amur fish eats more than it’s weight in water vegetation every day and proves an effective weed control, reducing the use of chemical treatments.
Controlling aquatic weed growth in SRP’s canal system has been a challenge since the early days. Left unchecked, weeds impede water flow and displace space in the canal needed for water transport. Past weed control methods included scraping canal beds with heavy chains to uproot plants, scooping out vegetation with backhoes or applying herbicides.
SRP begins banking water at the Granite Reef Underground Storage Project(GRUSP) to help ensure a reliable and adequate supply of water for the growing Phoenix metropolitan area.
GRUSP was designed to enable the state of Arizona to maximize use of its Colorado River entitlement and help the state reach its "safe yield" goal. Safe yield is the equilibrium between the amount of groundwater pumped from an aquifer and the amount recharged into it.
A modification project is completed raising the height of Theodore Roosevelt Dam and expanding the lake's storage capacity. This increase offers Valley cities more water and, for the first time, provides SRP with substantial amounts of flood control and storage space.
SRP receives the coveted Award for Excellence in Workplace Volunteer Programs for 2000 from the Points of Light Foundation based in Washington, D.C., one of the world's highest and most distinguished awards for community and volunteer service.
SRP acquires C.C. Cragin (formerly Blue Ridge) reservoir from Phelps Dodge Corporation as part of the Gila River Indian Water Rights Settlement approved by the Arizona Water Settlement Act.
The agreement settles water rights issues and allows for the transfer of C.C. Cragin reservoir from Phelps Dodge to SRP. The additional water supply is used to meet domestic and municipal water demands in northern Gila County.
SRP's Board of Directors approve a management proposal that directs SRP's future use of renewable energy resources and energy conservation measures.
Among them are a diversified resource mix of wind, geothermal, large hydro (added in 2007) and low-impact hydro and landfill gas. The approved portfolio sets a target of 15% of SRP retail sales to be met through sustainable resources by fiscal year 2025.