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What is a workday like for an SRP zanjero?

At sunset, residents across the Valley start winding down. But for an SRP zanjero, the day might be just beginning.  

What is a zanjero?

Spanish for “ditch rider,” zanjeros are significant figures in Arizona’s history. Since the 1880s, they’ve kept the water flowing throughout the Valley. Their work includes everything from cleaning canals and opening gates to finding lost wedding rings and rescuing pets.  

Zanjeros work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Whether it’s the morning or evening shift, they always start the day in their office — a white SRP truck.  

Zanjeros once rode horses around the canals, but they now move by horsepower. Surprisingly, they can drive up to 150 miles during a shift. With over 60 zanjeros in the Valley, that’s more than a million miles covered each year. 

Have you ever seen an SRP truck along a canal and wondered why it’s there? We invite you to see what life is like in the day of a zanjero.

A day in the life of an SRP zanjero

Assigned to “coverage areas,” zanjeros plan their day based on what needs to be done in their areas. For instance, when their shift starts, they receive critical information from the shift before them.

Additionally, they review daily water orders and verify which water gates are currently open. Zanjeros must prioritize their workload and manage their time while working safely with everyday traffic hazards.

What does an SRP zanjero do?

  • Measure water flowing from the canals into laterals
  • Open gates and release water – a zanjero can open 100 gates a day!  
  • Check pumps and other equipment
  • Scan for signs of vandalism
  • Clear debris from gates using a special rake called a goncho
  • Respond to customer calls

During their shift, an SRP zanjero also must be ready for change. If it rains, they’ll take calls from SRP’s Water Contact Center to help stop irrigation deliveries to prevent potential flooding.

“We want to make sure when we deliver water, you are ready for it. And storms impact that. If you can’t take the water, let us know.” 

 Kristen, SRP Zanjero 

Oftentimes, zanjeros are called out to help customers with flooding or to help fix other irrigation issues. For example, a customer might call and say they aren’t getting enough water. Zanjeros can confirm the delivery amount and ensure that the gates are free of debris.

If needed, they will change the amount of water flow. Cans and plastic bottles sometimes collect in gates and limit the water flowing into private irrigation systems.  

Zanjeros working in the community

While some things change, others stay the same. Today, SRP zanjeros use two-way radios and computers to communicate and monitor water flow while working along the canals.

They also use precise instruments to measure water levels in laterals and water delivery gates. These tools help them accurately account for water and its delivery to farms and homes.

By the way, a lateral is an off-shoot from the main canal that carries water to one or more private irrigation systems.        

Customer visits are often the best part of the zanjero’s day. They enjoy meeting people and providing reliable, consistent water service.

Have a question or need help? Call the Water Contact Center at (602) 236-3333 if there is an issue with your water.

“I love meeting with my customers face to face at the gate; you get to know people. I get a little concerned if I don’t see my regulars.” 

Kristen, SRP Zanjero

Not everyone is familiar with flood irrigation. If you want to know how it works, our SRP Irrigation 101 post is a great place to start.

Get more information or help with your flood irrigation.


Zanjeros’ favorite spots

Since SRP zanjeros spend all their time on the canal system, many have a favorite spot. We’ve been told you can catch a picturesque sunrise over the water at 32nd Street. Ducks and other wildlife are always swimming in the canals, so keep an eye out for them.

The Grand Canalscape is a new favorite. This beautiful trail system is now fully accessible from Interstate 17 to the Tempe border.

Ask a zanjero: Do you have any favorite spots in the Valley?   
“A recent favorite is the Grand Canalscape. We work off the south side, so we can look at the work done on the north side. It’s a great community addition and it’s really beautiful.” 
-Kirsten, SRP Zanjero

For other favorite spots along the canal, including the last remaining zanjero house, visit the SRP Heritage Map

Where does Valley water come from?

The zanjeros not only take care of our water, but they also know a lot about its journey to the canals. If you want to learn more about where your water comes from, ask your SRP zanjero. 

5 thoughts on “What is a workday like for an SRP zanjero?”

  1. I never see this guys or ladies zanjero’s during our irrigation time. When you need them they’re never around.

    1. Salt River Project

      Hi Raymond, our Zanjeros turn on/off the main gate and do not typically assist with delivery issues within in the private system. If your delivery is running too strong/short, please give us a call to verify the measurement.

  2. My father was a zanjero back in the 40’s when he and my mother moved to AZ as newlyweds. He eventually became a manager for SRP’s retirement plan, then retired himself in the 70’s.

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