It’s been a long time since the silt and vegetation along the walls of 131 miles of SRP canals throughout the Valley have been cleared away.
But as of Nov. 16, that began to change for the first time in 23 years when SRP started placing white amur fish in the canal to feed on the vegetation that could grow and impede the flow of water from the region’s lakes and watersheds.
That’s when morning joggers, walkers and bicyclists along the canals began to notice SRP workers kicking off a seven-year cleanup project for the entire 131 miles of SRP canals that provide East Valley cities drinking water and farmers irrigation water after it is all treated at local plants.
The cleanup also includes the “herding of the fish, or the relocation of the white amur fish (similar to a carp) that feed off the vegetation and often hover around the tires that people dump into the canals that provide East Valley cities drinking water.
The project, which consists of clearing 20 miles of canals two months out of the year during “dry-up” periods in November and January when the need for water is not as high, will help water flow through the system in a more efficient manner as crews make sure portions of the canal remain structurally sound.
The cleanup, which includes removing about four feet of silt from the canal in some areas, now is under way at the canal system’s eastern most edge in Gilbert off of Val Vista Drive northwest of Williams Field Road and is expected to last until Dec. 16. Then in January, SRP will clear a section of the canal along Scottsdale’s waterfront, said Justin Schonhoff, a groundwater supervisor for SRP.
The boundaries of the canal are Bell Road to the north, Hunt Highway to the south, 107th Avenue to the west and Greenfield road to the east. All four of the East Valley’s major cities — Mesa, Chandler, Tempe and Gilbert -- are included in the SRP canal system that receives water from the Salt River and Verde watersheds as well as Roosevelt, Canyon, Apache and Bartlett lakes.
“We’re going to clean every mile of the canal,” Schonhoff said on Friday amid a cluster of trucks and workers along the canal in Gilbert. “We’re the main water supplier for Maricopa County, and there really hasn’t been a major cleanup of the canals since the white amur fish were introduced in 1989. This is something we’ve been putting off for a long time. This is more of a preventative measure; before, we were more reactive and would just clean and repair parts of the canal as needed.”
“The buildup of silt increases vegetation growth, it impedes the flow of the water and it becomes a nuisance,” Schonhoff added.
Once the silt and vegetation is removed from the canal, it will be placed along the banks to dry out and later taken to a dump.
Other items that have been removed from the seven major canals throughout the Valley in the past have included numerous shopping carts and tires, safes and furniture, and sometimes, vehicles. About 10 years ago, a stolen Corvette was pulled from the canal in south Scottsdale
Schonhoff also was quick to say that although people fish out of the canals, SRP prefers them not to.
SRP purchases up to 10,000 white amur fish a year at a cost of $13 apiece from a fish farm in Arkansas to stock the canals in the early part of the year so they can feed on the vegetation. The fish are sterile and do not reproduce. If anyone is caught pulling a white amur fish out of the canal, they can be fined up to $75 by Arizona Game and Fish, Schonhoff said.
But the buildup of silt and the potential of vegetation increasing with the shortage of fish isn’t the only thing that can impede the canals.
“We’re also looking for any buildup of quagga mussels,” Schonhoff said. “We’re glad to say that we haven’t seen any infestations. So far, the canal system has been relatively clean.”
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