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How Phoenix, SRP and federal government will address canal encampments

Changes are coming to address homeless encampments along SRP’s canal system in Phoenix.

For the past nine to 12 months, Councilwoman Ann O’Brien said there’s one question she could always count on getting at neighborhood and district meetings: what’s being done to address the encampments along the canals?

“I had folks who like to ride the canals for recreation, who live next to the canal or who have their businesses next to the canal who were coming and telling me about their concerns for their safety, and then there was the whole health aspect of it as well,” she said.

When O’Brien began asking city departments what could be done, she discovered Vice Mayor Laura Pastor had already been working on the issue with SRP.  The Grand Canal runs through Pastor’s district in central Phoenix while the  Arizona Canal runs through part of O’Brien’s district in northwest Phoenix.

SRP operates and maintains the canals and the canal banks are owned by the federal government, specifically the Bureau of Reclamation. Current policy allows camping on Reclamation land up to 14 days in a 30-day period, but starting Sept. 1, overnight camping and campfires will be not be allowed.

“The canal system was not built or intended for camping,” O’Brien said. “There is no fresh water, there are no facilities for bathrooming, so it’s just not the proper place for all of these folks to be there.”

"The canal system was not built or intended for camping." — Phoenix Councilwoman Ann O'Brien

Starting Aug. 1, she said SRP will begin posting signs explaining the new rules, and the city and county will concentrate on offering services like shelter, food, hygiene and health care.

“At the city of Phoenix, we lead with services,” O’Brien said. “We want to help everyone who wants the help.”

KJZZ News asked Phoenix police and SRP what enforcement would look like after Sept. 1. KJZZ News received this statement from SRP:

"The SRP canal banks are United State property and are managed by SRP.

Safety is a cornerstone of everything we do at SRP. Currently, SRP patrols our canals daily to monitor the canals banks and to help keep the area safe.

Once the SUA becomes active on Sept. 1, SRP will further collaborate with the city of Phoenix and other cities and their police departments regarding awareness of the new regulations, offer the services they need and inform of appropriate shelter locations.

SRP will comply with all federal regulations in order to ensure the continued operations and maintenance of the canal system for safe and reliable deliveries of water to the Valley."

The city of Phoenix sent this statement:

"The city of Phoenix prioritizes leading with services and working to connect people who are unsheltered with the appropriate resources. The city is working cooperatively with SRP and other affected communities to coordinate outreach efforts to ensure anyone camping on the canals is aware of the anticipated new regulations and the services and alternative housing options available.

Proactive outreach has been occurring for the last several months. Expanded outreach and education are planned during the 30-day notification period, which begins on Aug. 1, to further ensure every opportunity to receive services is made available.

SRP staff and security will continue to patrol the canals, offering education and outreach services to those who may be asked to relocate due to camping or other violations. SRP may request to involve the Phoenix Police Department for assistance handling any illegal activity along the canals."

As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.