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Watching the Cave Creek flood in Phoenix in 1943

When most people think of Phoenix, they don't think of flooding. I know that I didn't when I moved there in my teens. Phoenix is a desert city after all, how could it flood? But if you've lived in Phoenix you know that there are torrential thunderstorms in the summer, and the snow melt in the spring brings a lot of water into the valley from the surrounding mountains. That's the water that fills the reservoirs on the Salt River, and it's the reason why such a large city can exist in the desert. The greatest challenge that Phoenix has faced historically hasn't been a lack of water, it's having too much of it, suddenly flooding.

It's 1943 and we're watching Cave Creek flood again. It's been doing it for so long that it's just an outrage that nothing has been done about it. And since it's been under complete control since 1994, most people who live in Phoenix after that time have no idea how terrible it was.

1921 article showing the Cave Creek floodplain.

The first thing you need to do is to find Cave Creek. No, I don't mean the town of Cave Creek, or Cave Creek Road. I mean the creek, which is a dry wash that flows west of Shaw Butte. If you've ever played the Cave Creek Golf Course you've seen Cave Creek, it flows right through it, between Greenway and Thunderbird and 19th Avenue and 26th Avenue. Take a look on Google Satellite View and you can see it clearly.

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The creek flows south, and when it hits the Arizona Canal, just east of the I-17 freeway north of Dunlap, you're looking at what was called the Cave Creek break. And when the Arizona Canal overflowed its banks there, it caused a massive flood that flowed all of the way south to the Salt River, at about where the State Capitol Building is.

1921 article about the Cave Creek floods

Maricopa County created the Flood Control District in the 1950s, and over the next forty years finally controlled the Cave Creek Floods. And they did such a good job on it that most people living in Phoenix now have no idea how terrible it was, how much damage it did, and how long it lasted, going back to territorial days.

So let's watch the water flood in 1943. It's quite a mess! You know, they oughta do something about that!

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