Salt River Cattle
Some cattle is using the Salt River to cool down and get a sip of water.
Also see our artwork of Salt River Horses
Feeling savvy? Look at our Salt River Bundle!
The Salt River formerly flowed through its entire course year-round. However, the free-flowing river would frequently flood. The construction of several dams, beginning with the Theodore Roosevelt Dam, have caused the river to become intermittent in many parts.
Despite the dry river bed, or arroyo, dangerous flash floods occasionally occur, especially during monsoon storms in late July and early August. Flood waters can wash out roads. Bridges have been damaged, notably in 1980, 1993, and 2005. The natural flow of the Salt is 2,570 cubic feet per second (73 m3/s) at its mouth. However, except after rainfall, the Salt is dry or a small stream below Granite Reef Dam. The river was formerly navigable throughout its course by small craft. The river is still navigable in the majority of the area where it still carries water.
The river was used for irrigation by the pre-Columbian Hohokam culture, by later Native Americans, and by early Euro-American settlers in the 19th century. It currently provides a major source of irrigation and drinking water for Phoenix and surrounding communities through the Salt River Project. The river’s water is distributed over more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of irrigation canals, used primarily for the growing of cotton, alfalfa, fruit, and vegetables.
Below the diversion dam, the bed of the Salt River is dry, except following rain or upstream runoff. The USGS stream gage at 51st Avenue, Phoenix, records no flow at all on many days—in 2009, for example, there was no flow for most of the year, except during parts of February and March when the river’s discharge reached an average of 87 cubic feet per second (2.5 m3/s). The diversion capacity at Granite Reef Diversion Dam is 3,600 cubic feet per second (100 m3/s), with 2,000 cubic feet per second (57 m3/s) for the Arizona Canal, and 1,600 cubic feet per second (45 m3/s) for the Southern Canal.