Second consecutive wet winter is a big win for Valley’s water supply

Feb 14, 2024, 11:10 AM

Water flows from the Bartlett Dam west of metro Phoenix in March 2023....

Water flows from the Bartlett Dam west of metro Phoenix in March 2023. (Salt River Project Photo)

(Salt River Project Photo)

PHOENIX – Arizona’s second consecutive wet winter is big win for the Valley’s water supply.

Salt River Project’s reservoirs, which the utility uses to feed the metro Phoenix water system, were 83% full as of Wednesday, up from 79% at this time last year.

“That really gets us through a couple of years of water supply for our customers,” SRP spokesperson Patty Garcia-Likens told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News. “We always look forward to filling them to the top.

“I think … we may get a few more storms, but you never know. You just have to see what Mother Nature will bring to us.”

Will SRP have to release water into Salt, Verde rivers?

It’s still too soon to tell if the snowmelt will fill up the reservoirs to the point where SRP has to open its dams to the point where it causes flooding in the Valley. Last year, water overflowed the usually dry Salt and Verde river channels in some areas, causing multiple extended road closures.

“That’s definitely not something that we want to do. I know it looks beautiful, but it’s so hard to tell at this point,” Garcia-Likens said. “But basically, we release water from the Verde and the Salt side depending on the time of year just to manage those reservoirs, just to make sure that they’re not filling up too soon. It really is a balance that we have to do throughout the year.”

SRP experts were in Happy Jack this week, between Payson and Flagstaff, to measure snowpack, giving them a better idea of how much water will run off into the reservoir system when the weather warms. They measured 30 inches, not quite as much as last year.

“It definitely measures up though, but what we had was a very dry December and dry January,” Garcia-Likens said. “We were actually below average until these storms hit in February. So, depending on where we go from here, we may be able to fill up those reservoirs like we did last year.”

Why is Arizona getting so much precipitation this winter?

Randy Cerveny, a professor of geographical sciences at Arizona State University, attributes this year’s above-average precipitation to El Niño conditions (warmer water) in the Pacific Ocean.

“The storms are coming into California, they’re tapping into what we call atmospheric rivers, big blows of tropical moisture, and some of that moisture is making it over into Arizona,” Cerveny told KTAR News on Tuesday. “While California, Southern California in particular, has been hit really bad, we’ve gotten some of that moisture as well, and it’s been perfect for us.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Jim Cross contributed to this report.

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Second consecutive wet winter is a big win for Valley’s water supply