Arizona’s Salt River Celebrated – 05.04.2012

“If the Colorado River can be said to the ‘lifeblood of the West,’ the Salt River is the lifeblood of Phoenix and the surrounding communities,” according to the profile by Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, Sonoran Institute, and Western Resource Advocates, the groups behind the river series.

The story of the Salt River is symbolic of the many faces of Arizona, from the river’s journey through a rugged and spectacular canyon wilderness to its essential role in cultivating the farms, industries, and development that gave rise to Phoenix, the sixth largest city in the U.S., in the unlikely landscape of the Sonoran Desert.

From its origin, the Salt River flows west through Native American lands and a remote wilderness area, then through a series of dams and reservoirs that provide water and power to the Phoenix metropolitan region. The first and largest dam, Roosevelt, completed in 1911, created Roosevelt Lake and secured a reliable water supply for Phoenix. Below Roosevelt Dam, the Salt flows through three more dams and reservoirs and is then joined by its largest tributary, the Verde River, from the north. Below this confluence, the Granite Reef Diversion Dam distributes water to canals that flow to the Phoenix metropolitan area. Due to these diversions, the Salt now rarely flows below Granite Reef and along its course through Phoenix.

Various efforts to restore degraded stretches of the Salt River are underway. For example, within the City of Phoenix, the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Project utilizes urban runoff and groundwater to restore a five-mile stretch of riverbed. Completed in 2005, the restoration area provides environmental education and economic development opportunities along a revitalized riverbed. Such projects “point the way to what is possible when people recognize that Arizona’s rivers are an ecological and economic asset to the people of the state,” said EDF’s Jocelyn Gibbon.

The next river featured by the groups will be the Little Colorado River. The University of Arizona’s Water Resources Research Center (WRRC) has provided assistance in preparation of the profiles. The WRRC’s recent “Environmental Water Needs Assessment” is evaluates information about the water needs of environmental resources in Arizona.