This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Why Phoenix floods so much


If you're a Phoenix old-timer, that is, if you've lived in Phoenix for a year or more, you know that Phoenix floods. When it rains, the streets flood, the parking lots can turn into lakes, that sort of thing. And if you've lived in Phoenix for a long time, like I have, you have seen 100-year floods and 500-year floods. Wow - I guess I've lived here a long time! And the most common misconception I've heard is that it was all caused by people. People who built roads, people who paved the desert. You know, people ruin everything.

But that's simply not true. If you've done much history adventuring, you know that the Salt River Valley is pretty much all floodplain. And what you're seeing nowadays is a fraction of what Phoenicians had to put up with 100 years ago.

Phoenix has done an amazing job engineering flood control. And it you don't know anything about it, well, that's the point. Just north of me is a gigantic piece of engineering that controls flooding in Phoenix, called the Diversion Channel. Most people in my neighborhood just call it Thunderbird Paseo Park. I've known people who go past it every day and have no idea it's there, or if they do, they just know it's a park. Take a look at a map, it runs parallel to the Arizona Canal.

Thunderbird Paseo Park in Glendale
Sometimes I feel kind'a sorry for the engineers. The more they do, the less people realize that there ever was anything to do. Not only have they controlled the type of major flooding that threatened the very existence of Phoenix when it first began, they have hidden it well. Take a walk along the linear park on 48th Street between Indian School Road and McDowell. Yep, there's a massive flood control storm drain underneath that. And there are a lot more, all over Phoenix. Even the I-17 Freeway was designed as a giant storm drain, which usually worked, unless you were trying to use the freeway in 1972 (above)!

So, the next time you hear someone saying that Phoenix was ruined by people, who caused all of the flooding, just smile and nod. They have no way of knowing about the Cave Creek flooding, unless they history adventure.

Cave Creek Flooding in 1921


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