Friday, May 22, 2009

World's Oldest Irrigation Found In Arizona

It seems that Arizona's water issues isn't a modern calamity. Recently unearthed in the Grand Canyon State is irrigation technology that is several milleniums old. Archaelogists have dated the trenches almost 600 years earlier than the primitive watering systems found in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.

"These are not the earliest canals known in Southern Arizona, but they are the most extensive and sophisticated engineering [from the period] that we have identified to date," said archaeologist James Vint of Desert Archaeology Inc. in

The site, called Las Capas or "The Layers," sits at the confluence of the CaƱada del Oro, Rillito Creek and Santa Cruz River. The name derives from the repeated layers of silt that buried the site until nothing was visible from the surface.


They identified two main canals bringing water from the Santa Cruz River and feeding it into eight distribution canals, all now buried 3 to 7 feet below the surface. The system could have irrigated from 60 to 100 acres, he estimated. The primary crops were maize, which was introduced into the area before 2100 B.C., and a weed known as amaranth, which can be eaten raw or cooked.

Ancient irrigation systems have been well documented. Lack of water during droughts and in global desert areas have been cited as causes of civilization decline. In the United States, Arizona has archaelogical tourist sites that showcase irrigation methods by native American Indian tribes, such as the Montezuma Castle National Monument outside of Phoenix.

Ancient irrigation ditch near Montezuma Well. [photograph National Park Service]

I wonder if the early aqueducts could be certified under the Florida Water Star Bronze Age program?

In our modern times, Arizona and every state in our union needs more water supply. Having better irrigation systems will help us save more potable water. Correctly installing and maintaining an efficient irrigation system will be encouraged this July with the first Smart Irrigation Month. A new resolution sponsored by Reps. John Linder (R-Ga.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich)has been introduced into the House. H. Con. Resolution 118 promotes the irrigation industry's goal to educate homeowners about the finite potable water supply and the importance of using it "wisely, responsibly and efficiently." Let's hope it streams through the committee process fluidly because every month should be Smart Irrigation Month.

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