The Past and Present of Arizona Irrigation


It might be easy to think of irrigation practices as modern commodities or technologies. Especially in Arizona, where the scorching desert heat makes keeping plants and crops healthy, particularly challenging. While irrigation practices are constantly evolving, some can be traced back to early civilizations. During this Smart Irrigation Month, it might be worth looking back at efficient irrigation practices that have stood the test of time.

The ancient Hohokam culture created the largest and most intricate irrigation system in North America. They harnessed water to grow and strengthen their agricultural civilization in the desert, from the first years of A.D. through 1450 A.D. around 90 years before the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the Southwest. These irrigation sites and ruins of the Hohokam can still be visited today.

Whether modern or ancient, the goal of irrigation has always been the same, to harness water, to sustain society, and plant growth. In Arizona, modern agricultural industries and urban development would not be nearly as successful without efficient irrigation practices. Many irrigation techniques used today are based on practices created by past civilizations. For example, one time-tested technique, which uses gravity, would be surface irrigation. Some examples of modern irrigation practices would be lateral move irrigation, center pivot irrigation, or localized irrigation, to name a few.

However, on a smaller scale how does the average Arizonan improve their irrigation system in their yard? How can they effectively conserve water, while keeping their plants in superb shape through the blistering Sonoran summer heat? The Irrigation Association, who started Smart Irrigation Month, is an informational resource dedicated specifically to the art and science of irrigation. They have a database of educational webinars and videos, from the basics and principles of irrigation, all the way to advanced irrigation design. On the Arizona Water Facts website, there are wonderful tips on how to stop wasting water during irrigation, and keep plants hydrated during drought conditions. If someone wants to learn about irrigation on a hands-on level, Ewing Irrigation, has videos on how to properly install sprinklers, and to repair leaks. These are just three examples, but the list goes on. Every city, town and water provider in this state has a water conservation section. They provide additional tips and resources to local residents on how to better irrigate and conserve water on their land, in order to save water and money.

There is a plethora of wonderful irrigation knowledge out there, and something for everyone! Whether Arizonans look to improve water usage in their yard, are curious to learn about advanced irrigation techniques, or study the archeological history within Arizona, they can find it!