Crisscrossing Phoenix, Arizona, are 180 miles of canals – more than twice as many as Venice and Amsterdam combined. As a native Phoenician, I've sp

The watery secret of ancient North America - BBC Travel

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2022-09-21 05:00:24

Crisscrossing Phoenix, Arizona, are 180 miles of canals – more than twice as many as Venice and Amsterdam combined. As a native Phoenician, I've spent many hours bicycling their banks alongside joggers and fishermen casting for carp. I've joined wildlife watchers strolling the main Arizona Canal on a summer evening to watch Mexican free-tailed bats make a mass fluttering exodus from their roost. And I've chatted with long-time residents who fondly recall fashioning water skis from plywood, tying a tow rope to a pickup truck and jetting through their neighbourhoods in a spray of water and dust.

The canals deliver irrigation and drinking water throughout the metro area, allowing millions of people to live in this sun-baked desert. They are a major reason Phoenix exists, and the city's name hints at their mysterious origins.

In 1867, the city's founding father, Jack Swilling – a prospector who had fought on both sides of the Civil War – stood above the Salt River Valley and saw the remnants of irrigation channels squiggling across the landscape like stretchmarks. He realised that, centuries before, some society had farmed this desert. Soon after, Swilling began scouring out the debris-clogged ditches to bring agriculture back to the region.

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