Humans have altered water systems in the Phoenix area as far back as 300 B.C. The Hohokam people constructed an extensive series of canals for irrigation in the region (until 1450 AD). A new group of settlers arrived in the 1860s and immediately began building "ditches" or simple irrigation canals. Construction continued through the 1900's as dams were built to harness the Salt and Verde rivers and the canal system was expanded to bring more land under cultivation. As the area became more urban, flood control became more important, necessitating construction of the Indian Bend Wash greenbelt, one of the first non-structural flood management structures in the United States. These activities altered surface water availability, dramatically increasing the timing and spatial distribution of stream flow.
"Prior to these alterations, channel systems like those of Indian Bend Wash were ephemeral, storm precipitation-driven systems with only a limited connection to the groundwater (via loss from the channel bed)," notes Ramon Arrowsmith, professor with School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "Now, the surface and subsurface hydrologic network is short circuited with water entering the channel from well and canal sources, and water leaving by important evaporation, seepage, and canal redirection."
The authors emphasize how modern urban water systems shatter any limitations imposed by the topographic contours of a region. The Central Arizona Project cuts a blue swatch across the Sonoran Desert and subdivides watersheds, to deliver a reported 1.7 109 m3 per year (or 1.5 million acre-feet) of surface water to the area. In addition, the pumping of ground water has dropped the water table 90 meters and connected surface and subsurf
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Arizona State University