San Carlos canal

These photos show a portion of the San Carlos Irrigation and Drainage District canal system before and after it was lined with concrete.

COOLIDGE — Progress continues to be made lining the canals that bring water to many Pinal County farms.

The project is undertaken by the San Carlos Irrigation and Drainage District, which represents the farmers who receive water from the Gila River, along with the Gila River Indian Community. It is lining the soil-bed canals with concrete so water doesn’t soak into the earth. It also allows the district to better control the speed of the water flowing from Coolidge Dam to the farms.

SCIDD General Manager Shane Lindstrom said this past year saw the completion of Phase 2 of the first reach of canal. That covers 4 miles in northern Pinal County going from the Gila River to an area north of Florence. Best of all, he said, that phase came in on time and under budget.

Now that that’s done, SCIDD has approved the release of $56 million to pay for the next 12 miles of canal work, which will extend to the Pima Lateral Canal just south of Valley Farms and Kenilworth roads.

This phase is expected to be completed within the next three years. After that, GRIC would be done with its involvement since that is the last stretch of canal the tribe shares. SCIDD would then be on its own to complete the final two reaches, first to Picacho Reservoir south of Coolidge, then to Casa Grande.

That will only line the main stem of the canal system. SCIDD also has 200 miles of smaller canals that need concrete.

“It’s a lot of heavy lifting,” Lindstrom said. “But there’s progress.”

The district long has operated with earthen canals while other districts have had concrete.

The results of the new work are already being seen, Lindstrom said. Since the farms affected are already so close to the dam, it’s not the speed that has made the biggest difference so far, but the quality of the water.

When water travels along earthen canals, it picks up heavy loads of sediment that then travels all the way onto farmland. In addition to potentially polluting the land, it restricts how farmers can use the water. For example, they can’t use a pressurized system because the sediment would easily clog the pipes.

The sediment only slows the water down. This is not ideal for an irrigation service, because farmers need their water as soon as possible after requesting it. Any delays only create uncertainty.

“We’re keeping the water in transit,” Lindstrom said. “The goal is to get the water out on the farmers’ field, just as it has been in this area for centuries.”

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