During wildfire season, “firefighters in the sky” on standby for CAP water

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CAP Canal

The Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal is, in essence, the spine of Arizona. Arching through the state from Lake Havasu to just south of Tucson, this Colorado River water often makes its desert journey through secluded regions where water sources are scarce.

So naturally, during this wildfire and monsoon season, this 336-mile aqueduct can be a firefighter’s main ally.

Sometimes during wildfires, the Bureau of Land Management will use a helicopter to dip water from the CAP canal to help quench a desert blaze.

The location of this system as a water source from western to southern Arizona is critical during wildfire season.

Collaborating for a common goal

Thanks to a 2016 cooperative agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Land Management, in emergency situations the water flowing through the canal can be used for fire suppression anywhere along the system.

See a map of active fire incidents in Arizona, as well as a CAP system map.

Firefighters in the sky

These “firefighters in the sky” might count on CAP canal water this summer to help douse remote flames. It wouldn’t take much out of the CAP supply: During a fire season, the amount of water used is typically less than 1/1,000,000th of CAP water deliveries throughout an average year.

“In many cases during a wildfire, time is of the essence,” said CAP Land and Survey Supervisor Tom Fitzgerald, who worked for the Tonto National Forest as a firefighter from 1992-2000. “Without CAP water as a critical source nearby, firefighters would have to go a long distance to get water from another source. That delay could result in the fire increasing in size – potentially threatening life and/or property.”

Fortunately, these water and collaborative agreements have remained intact.

Though it’s not comforting to imagine the Arizona landscape ravaged by wildfire, CAP canal water could again help curtail an untamed inferno.