Canal history

The nine canals that make up the Valley's canal system were developed over the past 100 years. Each canal has a unique history and service area.

Arizona Canal (1883)

The Arizona Canal was begun in May 1883 by the Arizona Canal Company, which was formed in December 1882.

The original heading was the old Arizona Dam, located on the Salt River about one mile below the mouth of the Verde River. That dam was destroyed in a spring flood in 1886. A stronger Arizona Dam was rebuilt by January 1887.

This second Arizona Dam was the only pioneer diversion dam that survived the big flood of February 1891. At that time, water flowed down the river at an estimated 291,000 cubic feet per second. The dam had been rebuilt with rock-filled wooden cribs from 32 train carloads of Oregon pine lumber, and while it was not destroyed, it did sustain damage.

Following the organization of the Salt River Valley Water Users' Association (Association) in 1903, the Secretary of Interior agreed to purchase the canal. The agreement was signed in March 1906, but it wasn't until May 1907 that the government assumed canal operation.

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Grand Canal (1878)

The Grand Canal is the oldest remaining pioneer canal on the north side of the Salt River. It was planned in 1877 and constructed in 1878 by the Grand Canal Company.

The federal government purchased the Grand Canal for $20,488 in June 1906 and it became part of the Association. At that time, the canal served about 17,000 acres.

The Crosscut Canals: Old and new

The 'old' Crosscut Canal was built by pioneers in 1888 to bring irrigation water from the Arizona Canal to the Grand Canal. It was sold to the federal government in 1906 for $15,730. Portions of the canal have been turned over to the city of Phoenix to carry away storm drainage from northeast Phoenix.

A northern view from the New Crosscut Canal in the Papago Park area. The old Crosscut Canal now takes storm water to the Salt River bed under the Grand Canal. It also can carry water from the Arizona Canal to the Grand Canal.

The Salt River Valley Water Users' Association under a 1910 contract with the United States Reclamation Service (the predecessor of the Bureau of Reclamation) constructed the "new" Crosscut Canal in 1912-1913. Grant Brothers Construction Company completed most of the work on the canal. The canal connects to two parallel penstocks, which Martin & Gillis constructed in 1913, that drop 116-feet into the Crosscut Hydroelectric plant. This plant was constructed in 1913-1914 and has a generating capacity of 3,000 kilowatts (kW).

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South Canal (1908)

The South Canal was built by the federal government between 1906 and 1908 to unify the entire south side canal system. Previously, most of the south side canals had separate headings.

One of the significant features of the South Canal is the Val Vista Water Treatment Plant. It was built in 1975 to supply Mesa and Phoenix with water for domestic use. Prior to 1975, Mesa received its water from a single well. The treatment plant increased the amount of water the city received by more than four times during its second year of operation.

The South Consolidated Hydroelectric Unit was built in 1980-1981 to provide inexpensive hydroelectric power to SRP customers. Partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the station has a 1,400 kW generating capacity. It is mostly underground in an effort to keep the environmental impact to a minimum.

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Eastern Canal (1909)

The Eastern Canal was built by the federal government in 1909, the Eastern Canal replaced the old Highland Canal which was one-quarter mile to the west. The Highland Canal had been completed in 1891, just before the devastating February flood of that year.

Lack of good water rights, coupled with droughts in the late 1890s and early 1900s, helped motivate landowners served by the Highland Canal to pledge their property as collateral to the federal government to build the Association.

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Consolidated Canal (1891)

Although it now is the largest canal in Mesa, the approximately 18-mile long Consolidated Canal wasn't built to serve any of the land within the present city limits.

Started during the drought year of 1891, the canal was masterminded by Dr. A.J. Chandler and his Consolidated Canal Company. Chandler's desire was to bring water to the area that now bears his name.

Because the canal was built during one of the driest periods in the Salt River's history, its owners faced supply problems. Lands with older water rights had first claim on the meager water supply in the Salt River, and the occasional surpluses that occurred were too small to cultivate a lot of new land.

Nevertheless, Chandler was imaginative. Recognizing the problems that owners of the Mesa and Tempe canal companies were having with brush diversion dams, he began bargaining.

In exchange for water to be saved by his proposals, Chandler offered to build a new diversion dam made of huge boulders. The south end of the dam tied into granite masonry abutments and wing walls, the head of the new canal.

Using a huge dredge, Chandler built a canal up to 26 feet deep. Two miles south of the heading, the canal emptied some of its water into the old Mesa Canal. The Consolidated Canal then divided into two branches, as it does today.

The branch heading west was called the 'Crosscut canal' and for about two miles, it followed what is now Brown Road to the edge of a small mesa near the Tempe Canal. This spot is where Chandler built the Chandler Power Plant that provided the first electricity to Mesa.

By carrying Tempe Canal water through the Consolidated Canal instead of through the sandy riverbed, canal owners prevented a considerable loss of water from seepage. This 'new' water became part of the Consolidated Canal which followed the old Mesa Canal to Baseline Road and on to Chandler.

Recognizing the water savings the Consolidated Canal made possible, the federal government later sought to acquire the canal as part of a unified water distribution system for the Association. Negotiations to buy the Consolidated Canal began in 1907. It was sold to the government in November 1908 for $187,000.

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Tempe Canal (1870)

Born of an 1870 land rush on the south side of the Salt River, the Tempe Canal is the oldest continuously used canal in the Salt River Valley Water Users Association system. Pioneers who had seen the success of the earlier Swilling Ditch in Phoenix hoped to outdo that project with their own.

The Arizona Canal approximately a half mile below Granite Reef Dam, with the Four Peaks mountain formation to the east. The drop in water level is created by a broad-crested weir (BCW) that is used to measure flow in the canal.

The canal got its start in December 1870 as the Hardy Irrigation Canal Company, named after its president, B.W. Hardy. But one month later, the company's name was changed to the Tempe Irrigation Canal Company because Hardy had resigned. By the end of 1872, the canal served more than 5,600 acres of land.

Charles Trumbull Hayden, the 'Father of Tempe', was among the early homesteaders served by the canal. He first came to the Valley in 1870 and saw the need for a store, ferry service and flour mill at the river near what is now Mill Avenue. Hayden began building the mill in 1872. It began operation two years later using power provided by water from the Tempe Canal by way of an extension ditch.

Because of proven firm water rights, Tempe Canal landowners did not join the Association when it was formed in 1903. Most landowners saw no reason to pledge their land as collateral for a federal government loan to build Roosevelt Dam.

By 1920, the Tempe Canal served 24,380 acres of land, more than 38 square miles.

The Tempe Canal Company did join the Association in 1925, but not because of a shortage of water. More than 50 years of irrigation had left some Tempe lands waterlogged, and in places, water seeped out of the ground forming bogs that were impossible to farm.

The Association volunteered to begin groundwater pumping to serve the rest of its area, if the Tempe Canal Company would join the Association.

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Western Canal (1912-1913)

The Western Canal was built in 1912-1913 by the Western Canal Construction Company, the Western Canal went into operation in February 1913 and its deed was filed in April 1915. The canal was built under contract with the federal government to be a part of the Association.

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Laterals

In addition to the main canals, the Valley is home to 924 miles of 'laterals,' ditches that take water from the large canals to various delivery points in irrigated areas.

Water is routed into and through these laterals by a series of turnout gates. Residential irrigation customers take their water entitlement at regularly scheduled intervals throughout the year by opening valves that release water onto their property for specific time periods.

Most laterals north of the Salt River in urban areas are underground. Many of the laterals that take water from canals in agricultural areas south of the river are open ditches.

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