This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Flooding in the desert, Phoenix, Arizona


While I was attending ASU in Tempe, Arizona, I got to experience what was called the "100-year flood" and the "500-year flood". I have to admit that I was genuinely puzzled as to how a city in the desert could suffer from such severe flooding. I have since learned about the flood of 1965, and just recently about the flood of 1891 (pictured). And once you understand why this happens, you understand why Phoenix was really such a good place to build a city in 1870, and why it still prospers today, out in the desert, with plenty of water.



History buffs and engineering geeks know that Phoenix sits at the bottom of one of the largest watersheds on the planet. That is, when it rains, and when the snow melts, up in northeast Arizona, all of that water comes pouring down through the Salt River Valley. And that enormous amount of water has been the curse, and the blessing, of Phoenix, Arizona.

Unlike desert cities like Las Vegas, or even Los Angeles, Phoenix, Arizona doesn't need to pipe water in from miles away. The water has been pouring down the Salt River for over 10,000 years. It connects up with The Gila River, going southwest, and empties into Baja California. People who have lived in the Salt River Valley for thousands of years have dealt with seasonal flooding. In good times, it was enough water to grow crops, in bad times, it washed everything away.

Seventy years ago the Federal government built a dam way out on the Colorado River and asked Arizona if it wanted to help pay for it. The Governor of Arizona just laughed. Why would Phoenix need to pipe in water from hundreds of miles away when all it had to do was to catch the water that flowed right by it's front door every year? Governor Hunt did not sign the bill, but the Federal Government pushed it through, anyway. That water, called The Central Arizona Project, arrived in the 1980s.

The water that flows through Phoenix, which provides water and power, and yes, occasionally floods, is called The Salt River Project.


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