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The difference between irrigation canals and storm drains in Phoenix, Arizona


As a former teacher, I know that it's important not to be too terribly fussy about some things, or else everything you say just becomes trivia. For example, here in Phoenix I commonly hear the word "mall" when in reality a particular place is actually a "shopping center". And for legal purposes, this can be important, such as clarifying that the Arrowhead Mall is different from the Arrowhead Towne Center, but in casual conversation, I know what you mean, and there really is no difference.

So when people call storm drains and canals "irrigation canals", I tend to let it go. I know what you mean - it's a thin slice of land that water goes through. If I lived by a canal, or a storm drain, I certainly wouldn't consider it "waterfront property" - in fact, that gives me a chuckle.

But if you really do want to know the difference between canals and storm drains, it's simply that one takes water in, and the other takes water away. That is, the canals of Phoenix bring water into the city, and the storm drains drain it away after it rains.

The water from the canals really is just river water, diverted and channeled in. And yes, there are fish in there. It's the water that's processed that you take a shower with. The canal that's closest to me, here in Glendale, is the Arizona Canal, which goes from the Salt River north of Apache Junction to west of me, emptying out in the Agua Fria, on the other side of the 101 freeway. It's been there since 1885, and I enjoy walking my dog along the banks, hopefully seeing ducks.

Thunderbird Paseo Park, a storm drain. The Diversion Channel north of the Arizona Canal.

Right next to the Arizona Canal is a storm drain, the biggest one in the valley. It's called the Diversion Channel, and if you look at a satellite view you can see how big it is. It's huge! And it drains water away. I like to cross the bridge on 67th Avenue and look down after a rainstorm and see the water flowing. Of course most of the time it's dry - you can walk your dog in there, or play frisbee golf. It's a park most of the time, dry with grass. By contrast the canal always has water in it, except in the rare times that it gets a clean, because that's essentially the Salt River, channeled into Phoenix. I like to call the Phoenix canals the "gentle rivers of Phoenix".

So, no I won't make a fuss if you call everything that carries water a canal. But there is a difference, and when you see it, you see what I see.

Thank you for walking along the canals, and storm drains, of Phoenix with me!

Image at the top of this post: the Arizona Canal in the 1970s, Northern and 7th Street. It still looks pretty much the same nowadays, even the trees are still there.

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