Conservation blog

Salt River Projects’ Water Portfolio

May 1, 2023 | Water Conservation Issues

The Salt River Valley Water Users Association (SRVWUA) was established in 1903.  Farmers and ranchers living in the valley were impacted by drought and needed a reliable water supply.  They pledged their own lands as collateral and together formed the Salt River Valley Water Users Association.

The National Reclamation Act, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902, funded the first reclamation project in Arizona.  Under this Act, SRVWUA was able to receive government funded loans and to contract for engineering expertise.  The first dam, named after Theodore Roosevelt, was constructed at Tonto Basin.

The Law of the River, known as First in Time, First in Right, provided early priority dates to SRVWUA from the 1860s through the 1910s.   The March 1, 1910, Kent Decree established water rights for the Users.

Roosevelt Dam and Lake

Named for Theodore Roosevelt, construction of the dam began in the Tonto Basin on the Salt River on September 20, 1906. Stones cut from the canyon walls and set with cement were manufactured on-site.

In 1909, Theodore Roosevelt Dam generated more power than was needed for construction purposes.  This extra power was delivered to customers via the Mesa-Roosevelt transmission line and used to run farmers’ irrigation pumps.  This sale established the concept of a “paying partner” for water.

Former President Theodore Roosevelt visited his namesake dam on March 18, 1911, and stated in his speech that this was one of his two greatest accomplishments.  (The construction of the Panama Canal was the other.)  In 1996, the dam was raised 77 feet.

Roosevelt Dam appears on Arizona’s official state seal.

SRP’s General Superintendent C.C. Cragin completed a plan to finance and build three additional hydroelectric dams along the Salt River.


Mormon Flat Dam and Canyon Lake

Named after the Utah pioneers who camped on Mormon Flat on their way to the Valley, construction of Mormon Flat Dam was completed in 1926.  The dam forms Canyon Lake, which offers visitors beautiful desert views and camping opportunities.  Two hydroelectric generators recycle water to provide electricity.


Horse Mesa Dam and Apache Lake

Construction of Horse Mesa Dam was completed in 1927.  This dam is the second of the three hydroelectric dams on the lower Salt River.  The dam forms Apache Lake and is a popular spot for fishing.


Stewart Mountain Dam and Saguaro Lake

Stewart Mountain Dam, built between 1928 and 1930, was improved in 1992. Named after the Old Stewart Ranch, this is the third dam to provide hydroelectricity to the Valley.   Revenue from these three dams was used to pay back the federal government for the construction of Roosevelt Dam and to finance the lower Salt River Dams.


C.C. Cragin Reservoir

In 1965, East Clear Creek Dam was renamed in honor of SRP’s General Superintendent C.C. Cragin.  Located on the Mogollon Rim in the Coconino National Forest, this dam provides water to the Gila River Indian Community as part of the 1962 Comprehensive Gila River Settlement Agreement among the Tribe, Phelps Dodge, and SRP. Water stored here is used by the Town of Payson and other communities in northern Gila County. A generating plant and electrical transmission line serves local customers and the Valley.


Bartlett Dam and Bartlett Lake

Bartlett Dam was the first dam constructed on the Verde River and was completed in 1939, in 1,000 days as stipulated under contract.  Named for Bill Bartlett, a government surveyor who discovered the dam site during a survey of the Verde River, Bartlett Dam is the first multiple-arch dam constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation.  It also allowed for labor opportunities during the Great Depression.  Improvements were made in 1997.


Horseshoe Dam and Horseshoe Lake

Horseshoe Dam gets its name from the horseshoe-shaped bend at the dam site.  It was built by Phelps Dodge Corporation, a mining company, and the Defense Plant Corporation, during World War II.  A water exchange agreement between SRVWUA and Phelps Dodge increased both the Valley’s and Phelps Dodge’s access to additional supplies.  In 1949, the District (Salt River Project Agricultural and Improvement Power District) took over responsibility of the operation and maintenance of power generation, while the Association (Salt River Valley Water Users Association) retained ownership of the system below Granite Reef Diversion Dam.


Granite Reef Diversion Dam

Granite Reef Diversion Dam, originally known as the Arizona Dam, diverted canals on the north side of the Salt River in the early 1900s. After a flood destroyed the dam in 1905, the federal government constructed a diversion dam for the north and southside canals.  A 1990 agreement between Central Arizona Project (CAP) and SRP allows for diversion of Colorado River water to be delivered to customers and stored underground for future use.


Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)

During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a voluntary work relief program, maintained and worked on the canal system.  In three years, the CCC crew built fences, created trails, construed levees and dikes, cleared laterals, and upgraded water control structures.  Their contribution to SRP was amazing.


Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District (District)

In 1939, SRVWUA worked with the Arizona Legislature to establish the Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District (District).  As a political subdivision of the state, the District could issue municipal bonds, assuring the financial health of SRP during the Great Depression and into the future.

Following World War II, Valley cities urbanized and grew quickly.  The introduction of the window air conditioner in 1948 hastened the need for electricity. By 1960, 25% of homes of Phoenix homes had central air conditioning.  In 1952, SRP signed its first contract with the City of Phoenix.  Today, SRP has contracts with 10 Valley cities.

By 1984, SRP’s urban water usage, 55%, surpassed agricultural usage for the first time, 45%.

Granite Reef Underground Storage Project (GRUSP)

Since 1994, SRP has been banking water at the Granite Reef Underground Storage Project (GRUSP) to ensure future supplies for the Phoenix metropolitan area.  GRUSP’s annual storage is between 30,000 and 40,00 acre-feet per year.


New River-Agua Fria Underground Storage Project (NAUSP)

Completed in 2007, SRP partnered with Valley cities to store an annual average between 20,000 and 25,000 acre-feet per year.


Wind Power

SRP purchased 63 megawatts of power from the Dry Lake Wind Power Project, in 2008, in Navajo County. This is the first and largest wind power project in Arizona and provides power to 15,000 homes in the Phoenix area.


SRP Today

Today, surface water is the primary source of SRP’s deliveries.  Salt River, Verde River, and East Clear Creek comprise the watershed.  From seven water storage areas, these reservoirs hold nearly 750 billion gallons of water.

There are more than 270 groundwater wells in the SRP portfolio.  The amount of water pumped is based lake level to maintain a proper balance.

The two underground storage projects mentioned above, GRUSP and NAUSP, allow local municipalities and tribes to accumulate Long-Term Storage Credits with the Arizona Department of Water Resources.  The two facilities combined can recharge nearly 20 billion gallons per year.

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