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Many of the Grand Canyon State’s residents are only living there now thanks to this action by Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago.
Like California, Arizona has been a state whose major population centers, economic vitality and agriculture rely on aqueducts carrying water from sources hundreds of miles away.
Throughout 2018, the Central Arizona Project will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Colorado River Basin Project Act by then-President Lyndon Johnson, which led to the construction of a 336-mile concrete-lined aqueduct bringing water from the river to a three-county region in central and southern Arizona, where 80 percent of the state’s population lives.
Construction began in 1973 and was largely completed by the early 1990s. The route, which starts at Lake Havasu on the Colorado River and ends in Tucson, includes three tunnels and is pumped over mountains in spots.
“The signing of the Colorado River Basin Project Act was the result of tenacious Arizonans, who had a steadfast vision that water security and stability were critical to ensuring Arizona’s future,” Lisa Atkins, CAWCD’s board president said in a statement. “The effort required by Arizona leaders to get the Colorado River Basin Project Act passed is an amazing legacy to us and is indeed critical to Arizona’s future. Much of Arizona’s economic development can be traced to the water supply envisioned by those Arizonans more than 50 years ago.”
Without the Central Arizona Project, the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas would look markedly different and far fewer people would likely live in the dry desert environment. In 1990, the state’s population was around 3.7 million people. Arizona now has nearly 7 million people.
This CAP video, featuring narration from President Johnson, details the aqueduct’s history and its importance to the Grand Canyon State.
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Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty is based in Seattle.