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The History of the Central Arizona Project

It is nearly a miracle. When you turn on a faucet here in Phoenix, Arizona – water flows out. Phoenix is built in the middle of one of the largest deserts in the entire world. Deserts are characterized by their aridity, that is, their near total lack of water. Somehow the 3.252 million residents of Phoenix have access to all the water they need. In large part, they can thank the Central Arizona Project.

The Colorado and the Southwest

The Colorado River delivers massive quantities of water to the states of the Southwest. Arizona, California, and Nevada make up the Lower Colorado River Basin States. Following a great deal of bickering about water rights, in 1952, the United States Supreme Court issued a decree dividing up the waters of the Colorado River between the Lower Basin States. California gets the lions share, and is entitled to 4.4 million acre-feet of water a year, while Arizona receives 2.8 million, and Nevada gets 300,000.

The Delivery Method

The problem with water from the Colorado River, is that it is very far away from Arizona’s major population centers. The Colorado curls its way across Norther Arizona, while Phoenix, and Tucson are tucked away in the south and house the majority of Arizona’s population. The Central Arizona Project was devised as a way of delivering Arizona’s quota of Colorado River water to its distant population centers. The project was brought to life by the Colorado River Basin Project Act of 1968, which was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Local senator Ernest McFarland was the driving force behind the initial concept of the CAP. Construction finally broke in 1973. The project wasted noted to be, “probably the state’s most celebrated bipartisan achievement of the 20th century.” Leaders from both political parties banded together to help ensure Arizona would have a bright, and well hydrated future.

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