The History of Arizona Canals

Dori Wittrig August 10, 2021

Lakes Mead & Powell on the Colorado River are the sources of water for Fountain Hills residents. The water from Lake Mead makes a long journey of 336 miles across central and southern Arizona to supply 80-percent of the state’s population by way of canals. These canals are maintained by the Central Arizona Project (CAP).
After the turn of the Twentieth Century, the seven states that share the Colorado River Basin entered an agreement to allocate shares of the river’s water. This led to the construction of both Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam.
In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Colorado River Basin Project Act. This authorized the construction of CAP by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. This new system provided a way for Arizona’s allotment of water from the Colorado River to be delivered to the most populous areas of Arizona while reducing the use of groundwater for agriculture and other activities.
The construction of the CAP system started in 1973 at Lake Havasu. It was completed south of Tucson twenty years later at a cost of more than $4 billion.
The CAP is an engineering marvel. Water enters the system at Mark Wilmer Pumping Plant where it lifts the water more than 800 feet from Lake Havasu into the 7-mile long Buckskin Mountain Tunnel. It flows into the open canal where it continues its journey across the state. Over the course of the entire system, it gets lifted more than 2,900 feet in total elevation. There are fourteen pumping plants, a hydroelectric pump/generating plant at New Waddell Dam (Lake Pleasant), 39 radial gate structures to control the flow of water, and more than 50 turnouts to deliver water.
The canal loses about 1-percent of its annual flow each year to evaporation. Depending on flow, the water takes 5-7 days to go from the beginning to the end of the aqueduct. It has more than 80 long-term water users, including municipal and industrial customers, agricultural users, and Native American tribes.
Few natural resources are as precious as water. The Central Arizona Project provides reliable, renewable water from the Colorado River. This makes Arizona’s economy stronger, and residents can enjoy a higher quality of life.
Learn more about the Central Arizona Project at

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