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

What the Salt River Project (SRP) in Arizona was, and is


Every month I give some money to the nice people at SRP. They are kind enough to supply me with electricity so that I can have air conditioning. Thank you, SRP! I'm looking at one of my bills now, and it just says SRP. But to me, it will always be the Salt River Project.

If you understand the Salt River Project, it answers many questions about why a city like Phoenix sits out in the middle of the desert, and has done so well. And to do that, you have to do a little traveling, and a little time-traveling.

If you live in the Phoenix area, and think that the Salt River is that big empty area that goes past the freeway, think again. Phoenix does live along the banks of a flowing river, it's just that its course has just been changed, and used for water and power.

Start with the Roosevelt Dam, which is northeast of Apache Junction. If you're really adventurous, drive there along the Apache Trail. If you do, it will really give you a clear picture of how absolutely ridiculous the idea of using the water from this river to irrigate the valley was. But in 1911, there were a lot of hair-brained schemes. This one worked!

Personally, I like the humility of the people who called what they were doing a “project”. You know, something to work on for a while, to see if it worked. But the project goes way back before then. The course of the Salt River had been re-routed by people in the valley for thousands of years. If you visited Pueblo Grande in school and didn't pay much attention, go visit it again. And you should be asking, “what in the world were these people thinking?” I call this kind of stuff “unrealistic optimism".

In the 1860s, a group of ex-confederate soldiers, led by a guy named Jack Swilling, started digging the modern canals. And somehow, he was able to raise the money to get it done. Can you imagine? Stand out in the middle of the desert today, miles from anything, and ask yourself if you would have invested? Or started digging? Now that is one big project!

Phoenix was built along the Salt River, and you can still see it flowing, every day. It's in the canals. And if you look at the old SRP logo you can see how the Salt River not only provided water, it provided power, and it still does. Thank you, SRP!




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