Every minute of every day, 365 days a year, as it has for thousands of years, gravity pulls water down from the mountains east and north of Greater Phoenix into the Salt River Valley, nourishing life in this part of the Sonoran Desert.

As it moves, the water carries with it tremendous energy. Over the years, this energy has wreaked havoc, flooding communities and destroying bridges and other structures. Humans have also harnessed part of its power and put water to work. In the late 1800s, Charles Trumbull Hayden routed some of the water out of the Salt River to turn water wheels and power his flour mill in Tempe. In 1902, Phoenicians built a small turbine at Arizona Falls, a natural drop along the Arizona Canal, to produce electricity for residents and farms.

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Arizona Falls Power Plant ca 1913 Arizona Falls Power Plant, circa 1913

By 1906, SRP was harnessing the energy of the Salt River to turn turbines to generate the electricity needed to build Roosevelt Dam. Electricity was also being sent to mines and to Phoenix.

The sale of this hydroelectric power to the growing population of the Salt River Valley helped pay down the Roosevelt Dam construction debt. As the population of the region grew and as Arizonans used more and more electricity for everything from lighting to running air conditioners to make the hot, dry region more comfortable, electricity, like water, became essential to life in the Salt River Valley.

Today, as the Salt River Project provides water to local residents, farms and businesses, it also provides electricity to more than 1 million customers in a 2,900-square-mile service area that spans three Arizona counties, including much of the metropolitan Phoenix area.

Inside look at turbine at AZ Falls

The hydroelectric generation station at Arizona Falls produces 750 kilowatts of electricity, which is enough to provide power to approximately 150 homes. The water enters the structure from the east and turns the massive blades of a turbine as it passes downhill to the canal and continues to the west. As the turbine spins, it produces electricity. The water then emerges unchanged to be delivered to agricultural, municipal and urban users.