Historic Arizona falls hold lessons about renewable energy - East Valley Tribune: Living Green

Historic Arizona falls hold lessons about renewable energy

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Posted: Friday, October 1, 2010 6:00 pm

You may have passed it on Indian School Road between 56th and 58th streets in Scottsdale without even knowing it was there. You may have seen it and wondered what it was. What is it? Arizona Falls - a hydroelectric facility owned and operated by SRP. This is no normal hydroelectric dam, however. It is the result of a unique feat of nature's engineering and a little bit of luck rolled into one.

In the late 1880s, when workers were building the Arizona Canal which traverses through the northern part of the Valley, they came across a section of very hard rock. They decided to leave the rock alone, allowing the water to rush over it to the next part of the canal below. This created a 20-foot waterfall that is now called Arizona Falls.

In 1902, SRP built the first ever hydroelectric unit in Arizona on that natural drop in the canal. SRP used the power of the gravity and falling water to spin a turbine and create electricity. However, in 1950, the small hydroelectric unit was shut down due to costs.

In 2003, it was given new life when SRP, the City of Phoenix, the Phoenix Arts Commission and the Arcadia Neighborhood decided to work together to restore this historic site. Now it's a place of pride for the community - both historically and environmentally. Historic details have been included in the newly revitalized site including boulders from all five of the reservoirs on the Salt River. Poetry, describing the wonders of water and nature, is carved into the beautiful, concrete deck and adds an artistic element to the area.

The site is open and free to the public, and teachers are encouraged to take their students to Arizona Falls for a free, local field trip. An educational Kiosk is located on site for public use, and teachers can stream the kiosk videos from our website as a preview to their students by visiting www.srpnet.com/falls. Also on that site, teachers can download a field trip lesson plan with ideas for how to maximize student learning at the facility.

Their students have the opportunity to learn about the environmental stewardship exhibited at the site (solar panels, weed-eating fish used to clean the canal, and clean energy production). Students also gain knowledge about delivery of water in the desert Valley of the Sun and about how best to conserve one of our most precious resources - water. Additionally, students can learn about the history of the Hohokam and early residents of the Valley.

Last summer, teachers participating in the Global Climate Change Educator Academy by SRP visited the site and had one of SRP's environmental engineers tell them about the features of the newly restored site. Teachers were anxious to energize their students with a visit to Arizona Falls during the school year.

Arizona Falls is open to the public, so we encourage you to visit the historic and beautiful site one fall evening. And if you or your child's teacher would like to set up a field trip (groups over 100), please call (602) 236-2798 to let us know you are coming! Groups under 100 can come anytime without advance notification.

So enjoy the site and please help us spread the word about this jewel of a destination to explore in the heart of the Valley.

Karen Fisch is manager of community outreach for SRP.

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