Scaly employees: Thousands of fish released into SRP canals in Arizona to clean out vegetation

The Salt River Project maintains 131 miles of canals that deliver water to millions of residents across the Phoenix metropolitan area, but there's one challenge they constantly face: vegetation. 

Weeds and algae can build up in SRP's canal systems, slowing the flow of water and clogging up the waterways.

Their solution? Thousands of fish.

Nearly 12,000 white amur fish have been trucked in from a fish farm in Arkansas to help clean up the vegetation.

"The fish will spread out and school with the older fish and just kind of bolster the population throughout the canal and take care of the vegetation," said SRP environmental scientist Brian Moorhead.

Moorhead says white amur eat weeds and algae, consuming up to two-thirds of their body weight daily and growing to an average of 30 inches in length.

"We want the fish to stay in the canal system where they can do their job, which is essentially eating the aquatic vegetation so we don’t have to use chemicals or mechanically remove the vegetation," Moorhead said.

Previously, SRP had to scrape canal beds with heavy chains, apply herbicides or manually scoop out the vegetation to keep weed growth under control.

"They are very hearty fish," said Moorhead. "They put up with a lot of temperature variation and even warmer summer temperatures as well. They are very well suited for us in our environment." 

Moorhead says they are protected under the Arizona Game and Fish license program. It is illegal to take the fish out of the canal system because they are brought in to do a specific job.

"They are some of our smaller employees," he said. "They are here working for us doing their job 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so we don’t have to put too much manpower into removing vegetation." 

Since the program started, SRP has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual operating costs. Around 44,000 fish currently swim in their canal system.

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