The transformation of a historic waterfall by SRP and the Phoenix Arts Commission allows Phoenix-area residents to experience something old and something new. Arizona Falls, formed by a natural 20-foot drop along the Arizona Canal just east of 56th Street and Indian School, was reopened in June 2003 as a restored hydroelectric plant and neighborhood-gathering place where visitors can learn, interact and reflect. The new Arizona Falls combines art, history, and technology to generate clean electricity from the canal’s waterfall.
This award-winning public art project transformed Arizona Falls from a once defunct hydroelectric plant on the Arizona Canal into a public space where walkers, joggers, and bicyclists can sit and enjoy the cooling effects of the canal and waterfall while learning about hydro-generation or just reflecting on nature. In revitalizing the falls, artists Mags Harries and Lajos Héder utilized the existing site and structures in new ways. The design exposed the gears and floor of the site’s former hydroelectric plant generator room, which was built in the early 20th century. It also framed an outdoor “room” with the coolness and sound of water by diverting small flows of canal water into two new aqueducts, creating a pair of waterfalls. Paths and sidewalks lead visitors around and under the waterfalls and across a pedestrian bridge to the north bank of the canal. The site also features signs describing the history and significance of the canals and the story of bringing water to the Valley.
The project contains several unique expressions of art, history, and sustainability. Sandblasted into the concrete deck area and set within the imprint of reeds on the floor are words written by Alberto Rios, renowned Arizona Poet Laureate and Arizona State University Regents Professor. His poetry explores the water, its meaning to him and its importance to the Salt River Valley. Designed by local landscape architect Steve Martino, the sustainable plantings on the riparian terraces add to the lushness of the site. Rooftop solar panels harness solar energy and design details are found throughout the site that celebrate water.
In the late 1800s, Phoenicians enjoyed the wonders of Arizona Falls, gathering there to picnic, socialize, and dance near the cool water. Utilizing the flowing water of the canal to produce power, Arizona Falls was also the site of the first hydroelectric plant in Phoenix. Originally built in 1902, the plant was rebuilt by SRP in 1911, began delivering power again in 1913, and was eventually shut down in 1950.
As the years passed and more people moved to the Valley, Arizona Falls was almost forgotten as a place to gather — until today.
Looking for other great places to explore in Arizona? Check out our CELEBRATE AZ WATER archives.
From time to time, Water – Use It Wisely features guest bloggers who write about topics related to water and water conservation. The author of this blog, Jim Duncan, is a Principal Engineering Analyst with Salt River Project’s Water Engineering Department. A graduate of the University of Arizona, Jim has performed various functions for SRP from Economic Development to Water Construction and Maintenance. As an Engineering Analyst he oversees the introduction of public art and recreational use projects onto the canal banks.