Visitors to Phoenix and even long-time Phoenicians may have wondered about the canals that stream throughout the Valley of the Sun. Did you know that there are more than 180 miles of canals in Metro Phoenix? (ArizonaForward.org). That’s more miles of canals than Venice and Amsterdam combined! Venice has about 26 miles and Amsterdam has about 60 miles of waterways.
The origin of the canals in Phoenix stems from the Hohokam natives who constructed the canals to harness the Salt River to grow enough crops for 50,000 people prior to A.D. 1450. In modern-day, prior to the 1950s when air-conditioning became more common for Phoenix residents, community members used to swim in the canals and picnicked on the banks of the canals. The canal banks used to be lined with cottonwoods and willow trees, creating a riparian habitat. The Salt River Project then began to modify the canals to make them more efficient. SRP lined the canals with concrete and gave them steeper banks. Swimming was banned not much longer afterward, as these changes to the canals’ structure made the water flow much more quickly.
Along with the modification and modernization of the canals came a more efficient cleaning process in the mid-1980s. While heavy machinery used to be utilized to clean the canals (removing weeds and algae), nowadays SRP relies on fish to clean the canals. These fish are a type of grass carp, called the white amur. The white amur can eat nearly three-quarters of its weight in algae and weeds each day. (http://www.srpnet.com/environment/amur.aspx).
What’s next for the canals in Phoenix? City planners have proposed Grand Canalscape, a $22.5 million project which will improve a 12-mile section of the canal system from I-17 to Tempe (known the Grand Canal). This neglected area of the canals will receive a paved multi-use pathway, lighting, landscaping and crosswalks and traffic signals where the canal intersects roads. Funding will come from a combination of federal grants, SRP funds and city funds. (http://grandcanalscape.com/).
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