Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

The gentle rivers of Phoenix

The other day a friend of mine pointed to a canal and asked, "are there fish in there?" And that's when I really began to see that most people who live in the Phoenix, Arizona area have no idea what the canals are. They are the gentle rivers of Phoenix.

If you look at a map, and find what is labelled as The Salt River, and go look at that ugly scar through the landscape, you are not seeing the Salt River, you are just seeing a wash, or a floodplain. The river itself was diverted over 100 years ago and now flows gently through all parts of the Phoenix, Arizona area.

Lack of water has never been a problem for the valley. For the past 10,000 years, when the snow melted up in the northeast, water has come pouring through the valley in enormous floods. That flooding, by the way, is the reason that this land was so well-suited for agriculture, as discovered by the Hohokam people. And the early Phoenix pioneers discovered that, too. It's just like what made the Nile Valley in Egypt so rich, flooding.

But having a river come crashing down, flooding everything every year was no way to live. It must have been miserable. And that's why people got to thinking, "what if we could tame the river?" And that's exactly what they did.

Starting way back north of Apache Junction, they dammed and diverted the Salt River into canals. The northern part of the river was diverted towards Phoenix, the southern part towards Tempe and Mesa. Through careful monitoring, the once out-of-control Salt River was turned into a constant, gentle stream. If you're wondering where it is, go take a look at the canal nearest you.

And yes, there are fish in there.

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