March 9, 2023 – It’s good news in central Arizona.
The Salt River Project (SRP) announced that because of the productive storms experienced this winter and the subsequent runoff, its reservoirs on the Verde River are nearing full capacity and water will be released.
On March 2, SRP initiated a low-level release of water from Bartlett Dam on the Verde River to create additional storage capacity and to provide maximum flexibility for the upcoming and continued snowmelt and runoff season. While the releases are expected to be maintained at a low level, the water will eventually be visible flowing through the normally dry Salt River and force the closure of some roads in Phoenix’ east valley.
This is the first water release since 2019. Releases are expected to continue throughout the month.
The utility says that water releases in winters with a lot of precipitation and runoff are important for public safety. Throughout the year, SRP strategically releases water from the dams on the Salt and Verde rivers into a series of canals to meet the water needs of the Phoenix and surrounding metropolitan area — known to Arizonans as the Valley. In particularly wet winters when the reservoirs are nearing capacity, some releases outside of the canal system are required to make room for additional expected runoff.
“SRP monitors the watershed and reservoir system year-round to ensure a reliable supply for the Valley,” said Charlie Ester, Manager of SRP Water Management. “This winter has proven to be a productive year for the watershed, which is good news as SRP is able to store the water for future years.”
Watershed Snow Levels 2nd Deepest in 30 Years.
Unlike the Colorado River System, which is facing severe shortages due to the drought and a structural deficit where annual demand exceeds annual runoff, the Salt and Verde reservoir systems are nearly in balance where annual demand is close to the annual supply. In wet years runoff can exceed the available capacity of the reservoir system.
SRP will provide the released water to the cities and irrigation districts that take deliveries from its system so it can be put to beneficial use. Additionally, the water SRP is releasing will flow downstream in the Salt River and recharge the aquifer, which helps Valley cities and water providers.
Recent SRP surveys have determined that snowpack on the 13,000-square-mile watershed that replenishes the Verde River reservoirs is the second deepest it’s been in 30 years. SRP officials regularly check the snow levels in Arizona’s high country during the winter to develop seasonal runoff forecasts and provide valuable data for planning.
SRP is working on increasing the storage capacity for the Verde River reservoir system over the next decade. A group of 23 partners, including tribal, agricultural, and municipal organizations have committed to support the Bureau of Reclamation feasibility study of options to modify Bartlett Dam to improve management of water resources provided by the Verde River.
SRP is a community-based, not-for-profit public power utility and the largest electricity provider in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, serving approximately 1.1 million customers. SRP provides water to about half of the Valley’s residents, delivering more than 244 billion gallons of water (750,000 acre-feet) each year, and manages a 13,000-square-mile watershed that includes an extensive system of reservoirs, wells, canals and irrigation laterals.
Image: Bartlett Dam of Salt River Project (Maricopa County, AZ), 2017, by Bureau of Reclamation, Wikimedia Commons