Phoenix Water Quality: Yesterday
Early settlers of Phoenix knew the importance of proper water management in the desert landscape. While seasonal rainfall and runoff from mountain snow melt provided “eight months of heaven,” the undependable water supply would mean “four months of hell.” The early settlers drilled wells to provide 2 million gallons of groundwater per day to the city residents, but these wells often ran dry during the summer months. City planner Jack Swilling observed the ancient irrigation canals of the Hohokam Indians and reconstructed these canals to deliver water from the local Salt River to the city of Phoenix. While more irrigation canals were built to keep up with demand, seasonal flooding and droughts forced city planners to construct a dam.
President Theodore Roosevelt’s National Reclamation Act of 1902 authorized the financing for the construction of several dams, including the Roosevelt Dam. While the Roosevelt Dam stored enough water for the residents of the Phoenix area, many complained the water from the Dam, which is fed by the Salt River, was too salty tasting. City planners then looked for a source of surface water that was fed from pure snowmelt and rainwater. The Verde River met these qualifications and construction began on a 30-mile redwood pipeline from the Verde River to the city. Within 10 years, a concrete pipeline and a 20-million-gallon reservoir were built to replace the redwood pipeline. Several more dams and reservoirs were built to keep up with growing demand until 1968 when the Central Arizona Project was enacted to bring water from the Colorado River to Phoenix.