Central Arizona Project Turns 50

By Bret Jaspers, Mark Brodie
Published: Sunday, September 30, 2018 - 5:00am
Updated: Monday, October 1, 2018 - 12:08pm

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Bret Jaspers/KJZZ
Water flow throughout the 336-mile canal system is monitored at CAP headquarters in Phoenix.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Colorado River Basin Project Act on Sept. 30, 1968. It was a long journey to get there.

“For two decades, the Colorado River has been the subject of unrelenting controversy and competing claims,” Johnson said at a signing ceremony. “And I have a feeling of freedom this morning, when I see California and Arizona sitting there arm-in-arm smiling with each other.”

The line gets laughs from contemporary water managers, too.

The 1968 law authorized the Central Arizona Project, and Arizona was then able to secure billions in federal loans. (CAP ultimately cost $4 billion.)

John Harrison was at the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) by then; he started as an engineering aide in 1961 after an internship the year before. He said the BOR had “strongly believed CAP was going to happen,” and some initial work had already started. Harrison worked on survey teams until the late 1970s, including in the Buckskin Mountain Tunnel that serves as a passageway for water being pumped from Lake Havasu to the start of the canal.

Since 1996, Harrison’s employer has been the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, where he is currently a contract administrator. CAWCD is the agency that runs the 336-mile canal system.

From the banks of the canal behind the CAWCD headquarters in north Phoenix, Harrison pointed down to Cave Creek Road.

“I was literally going through and laying out the corners where the curves were, with the crew, staking them for the contractors,” he said. “Getting ready for that excavation.”

Harrison is now 76. His tenure with this major piece of infrastructure is a point of pride for him — even if he can’t recall if his granddaughter ever asking about it.

“My wife makes mention of the fact, not infrequently, [she] says, ‘Well, yeah, the CAP’s part of our family. It’s kept the roof over our heads forever.’”

And water flowing to Central Arizona.

John Harrison has worked on the Central Arizona Project for over 50 years.
Bret Jaspers /KJZZ
John Harrison has worked on the Central Arizona Project for over 50 years.

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