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Fish Herding: Where wildlife and water management coincide

Fish herding is exactly what it sounds like. But what’s the point? Who herds them and how? And, most importantly, why?

Canals tend to grow quite a bit of vegetation when left on their own, due to their good water quality, assortment of nutrients and direct sunlight. Such a dynamic would be wonderful in a garden but proves challenging in a canal.

Overgrown vegetation risks underdelivered water

Left uncontrolled, aquatic vegetation displaces water and offsets the core function of the canal systems. As water flow slows due to overgrown vegetation, less water can be delivered to water treatment plants, farmers and urban irrigation customers.

In other words, more vegetation means potentially less water for Valley residents and customers. This is no small concern for life in the desert.

Sure, there are ways to curb vegetation overgrowth, but SRP is in the business of innovation. And where there’s a challenge, there’s an invite to think critically and creatively. If you think the sustainable answer sounds fishy, you might be onto something.

Why are white amur so special?

Turns out white amur fish are not only friendly to the environment, but they’re also a surprisingly cost-effective solution for keeping SRP waterways in prime condition.

White amur eat up to 75% of their body weight in aquatic plants each day. This huge appetite makes them very well suited for keeping the aquatic plants under control.

Why does SRP perform dry-ups?

Canal dry-ups allow SRP to safely maintain the canals, which is essential to canal operation. Over time, concrete linings become cracked. Left unaddressed, these breaks could allow water to seep out of the canal in large volumes.

Draining and repairing the canal lining prevents water loss and affords SRP teams a chance to remove silt and other debris. Like aquatic plants, this silt reduces the amount of water the canal can transport, so it’s vital that crews conduct routine cleans while also protecting fish populations.

Why and how does SRP herd fish? 

SRP crews herd fish into small areas where they can be caught easily, placed in large nets and carried out of canals via large hauling tanks. It’s all part of routine dry-ups and annual canal upkeep. 

Next, the fish are driven to a holding area and ultimately re-released back into the waterways. If it sounds like too much work, it’s not. White amur are among the most valuable resources in the SRP ecosystem when it comes to keeping canal vegetation at a manageable level.

When did fish herding start? 

Fish herding began at SRP in 1991 as a means of protecting white amur populations in our waterways.

Where can you watch fish herding this year?

We do not encourage the public to come to fish moving processes due to the canal banks being highly congested with personnel, heavy equipment and vehicles. Canal banks are closed to the public in areas where the canal will be drained.

Your best chance to view the operation would be to watch from the street and nearby sidewalks.

Can you still fish in the canals?

Canal fishing is legal with an Arizona Game and Fish Fishing License .  However, if a white amur is caught, it must be immediately released unharmed back into the canal (per Arizona State Fishing Regulations ). 

What is the long-term vision for white amur in SRP canals? 

SRP views its white amur fish population as a sustainable and economical investment in the long-term health of its canals. Given the successful natural alternative to machinery and chemical counterparts, the white amur is here to stay.

What else can you do on the canals? 

SRP is proud to offer Valley communities a network of multipurpose canals that not only deliver water, but also recreation and wayfinding for local residents. Beyond fishing, the canal paths serve as central exercise corridors and alternatives to busy urban streets. But that’s not all.

Enjoy art and sites along the canals or take a virtual tour of Arizona Falls. 

As one of the largest raw water suppliers in Arizona, SRP delivers more than 244 billion gallons of water to the Valley each year and manages a 13,000-square-mile watershed that includes an extensive system of reservoirs, wells, canals and irrigation laterals.

Despite the extensive infrastructure, we maintain a commitment to daily innovations and opportunities such as that of the white amur. Our success relies on the balance of scientific advancement and a healthy respect for the marvel that is the natural world.

Whether through a symbiotic relationship with fish or an industry update through technology, we’re doing everything we can to provide quality water and power to Valley residents now and into the future. Although, we could always use help from Valley residents when it comes to conserving this precious resource.

Attend SRP’s free virtual Water Expo

Hear from experts and learn more about the Valley’s water supply and how we manage it at SRP’s virtual Water Expo.

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