Best Underground Water Delivery System (2011)

Salt River Project's Canals

For many suburbanites, they're as close as the Valley gets to a natural water feature. But Salt River Project's canal system isn't a series of lushly planted swimming holes; it's a man-made network of several connected bodies of water that run in an underground network through much of the southern half of the Phoenix metropolitan area, helping to distribute water from the Salt River system.

The system of canals SRP operates today was developed by the Hohokam Indians, American pioneers, and the federal government. The precise locations of the original Hohokam canals remain a mystery, in part because most of them have been destroyed by land development. Redeveloped over the past 100 years, each canal — with unglamorous names like Arizona, Crosscut, and Consolidated — has a unique history. The Grand Canal, constructed in 1878, is the oldest remaining pioneer canal on the north side of the Salt River, and the site of at least one annual (and quite secret) pioneer re-enactment game, complete with covered wagon. (Shhh!) And while portions of the old crosscut canal have been turned over to the city of Phoenix to carry away messy storm drainage from the northeast side of town, it hasn't discouraged neighborhood teens from making this canal their after-school hangout.

For some desert dwellers, though, the canal system is an open invitation to play. An unofficial society of canal dwellers can be found most weekend mornings, hunkering around the Tempe Canal or the South Canal over by the old Val Vista Water Treatment Plant. Summertime swimmers are forever being fished out of the canals and sent home with citations, since the canals aren't a resort feature, but a functional means of moving agua from here to there — with sometimes dangerously fast currents. And speaking of fish, trolling for trout is a pastime among many canal fans. While the thought of eating anything caught in a canal makes us go "Ack!," we can't really blame people for wanting to throw out a line or jump in and splash around a little — some of the canals are beautifully seated in lovely areas.

The New Crosscut Canal in Papago Park is surrounded by lush plant life and offers a stunning view of the Papago Buttes. And the Arizona Canal, located about a half-mile below Granite Reef Dam, affords visitors a perfect view of the Four Peaks mountain formation and a man-made mini waterfall that's nice to look at.


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >