Salt and Verde Reservoirs

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Reservoirs for the Salt and Verde Rivers, such as Roosevelt Lake, have been refilled to levels they were at last year, thanks to snowmelt. Salt River Project, which manages the system, reports the reservoirs also received a boost from a better-than-average monsoon season. Charlie Ester, SRP’s manager of Water Resource Operations, will discuss the status of water levels in the reservoirs that supply much of the water for the Phoenix area.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A strong snow melt and a healthy monsoon have made for promising conditions at SRP reservoirs that supply much of the water for the Phoenix area. Joining us now is Charlie Ester, SRP's manager of water resource operations. Good to see you.

Charlie Ester: Good evening, Ted.

Ted Simons: The water levels now at these reservoirs, what are you seeing? What's going on out there?

Charlie Ester: Surprisingly, we are at 55 percent full. Which is exactly where we were a year ago. So even though last year was very dry, we got enough snow melt from the snow that we did receive to actually give us back what we used. In other words, we get to do it over again.

Ted Simons: Everybody used, water has been returned?

Charlie Ester: It has been.

Ted Simons: Is that unusual? Is that the forecast?

Charlie Ester: Well, we were looking, actually, no. Going into last fall, we thought we might actually have a wet winter because El Niño was beginning to pick up and all of a sudden it just went flat and turned into more of a neutral condition, maybe even very, very weak La Nina and that's not good for Arizona. We ended up having a dryer winter but it was just wet enough that it seemed like it was wet because the previous two years had been so dry.

Ted Simons: I was going to say. You are saying we got all the water back that we had used. It's all been put back in. Is that the norm? How has that been the last 10, 15, 20 years?

Charlie Ester: Oh, my god. For the last 20 years it's been more dry than wet. But we have been very fortunate through management of our ground water and the central Arizona supplies that we are more than half full. And after 20 years of drought, I'll take that.

Ted Simons: Indeed. Before we move on let's get kind of a basic lesson here. How many reservoirs? Where are they?

Charlie Ester: We actually have seven reservoirs. Four of them are on the Salt River. Roosevelt dam is by far our largest. And then we have two reservoirs on the verde, horseshoe and Bartlett and a new reservoir, it's called C.C. Kragen. Most people will remember that as Blue Ridge reservoir on the East Clear Creek above Payson. That was acquired a few years ago through one of the Indian settlements.

Ted Simons: I know that, I don't want to get too far afield here but that particular reservoir water supply is a boon to Payson. Their water needs have been met I think for like 100 years, as least as far as forecasting is concerned, which is a big deal. Is there now a new lake there? Is there a place to go boating and stuff?

Charlie Ester: It's the same reservoir. It just has a new name. It's a beautiful location. It's just a wonderful site in the summer.

Ted Simons: It's a beautiful area. OK. Let's talk about this snow melt. It sounds like it was a little better than expected, especially since we had the La Nina.

Charlie Ester: Well, we thought it would be a lot better than normal. We actually, of course, I think every winter is going to be bad. That's just part of your nature. But it ended up being about 80 percent of normal. And for normal, we usually get about 600,000 acre feet of water. That's about 300,000 gallons per acre foot. So 80 percent of normal, that's pretty close to normal. Kind of a flip of a coin sort of thing.

Ted Simons: I was going to say considering how dry the winter wound up being in some respects that seems relatively encouraging. As far as the monsoon is considered, what are you seeing out there?

Charlie Ester: This is one crazy monsoon we are having. July was incredibly wet. There were some locations that had the wettest July ever; in fact, Douglas even had the wettest month ever. As soon as the calendar comes to August, it's like it shut down for a while. It's trying to rain again and in fact, it looks like next four, five days could be fairly productive. In July because it was so wet we did actually receive a fair amount of runoff. It was about 20 percent above normal.

Ted Simons: So when we are watching the weather maps and we are trying to figure out whether a storm is coming to our house, you folks are watching the map trying to figure out, what, if water is falling on reservoirs or in areas that run off into the rivers?

Charlie Ester: Yes. As much as we would all love to get rain at our own homes every night it's better for us if we get rain on the watershed and over the reservoirs is the best you can get because it falls right into your bucket.

Ted Simons: Are there areas of the watershed that are more important than other areas? That we could watch out for at home? Ourselves?

Charlie Ester: The forested high country is by far the greatest water producer. Of that area that stretches from Williams and Flagstaff all the way to the White Mountains, the White Mountains are by far more productive.

Ted Simons: Something happening there, good for us?

Charlie Ester: Yes.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about those who say that water is increasingly scarce in Arizona, and in the Southwest, especially now with this prolonged drought. Valid?

Charlie Ester: I would have a hard time arguing against that.

Ted Simons: Because?
Charlie Ester: Well, we are in a very long, extended drought which is not going to last forever. But with, when you throw in the Specter of climate change and perhaps a warming climate, which is likely to make us dryer or at least cause the effect of the temperatures to cause it to be dryer, there will probably be less water than we have been used to.

Ted Simons: What is SRP doing to address those concerns?

Charlie Ester: This is where I think SRP and all of Arizona entities will shine because this is a very arid state. Our water infrastructure has been developed to handle extreme conditions, extremely dry conditions. So I would say if anywhere in the country, Arizona and SRP in particular are probably very well situated to handle climate change variability.

Ted Simons: And we talk variability, we are talking, I would imagine a pretty wide field there. Correct?

Charlie Ester: Well, if you think about our natural climate is so incredibly variable as it is, if you then throw on, you know, 5, 10, 15 percent more variability from climate change; you probably won't even be able to discern it except through analysis of statistical records. So with our use of the reservoir water, ground water that resources that are here in the valley, and the fact that we have recharged over million acre feet of surface water for use during drought conditions, as well as this CAP supply that is we have, we are very well situated for climate change.

Ted Simons: Basically, there's concern out there, but no reason for panic and you don't see a crisis?

Charlie Ester: I would certainly not panic. And in terms of a -- I guess what's your definition of crisis? I do not believe we are facing a crisis at this time.

Ted Simons: Alright. It's good to have you here.

Charlie Ester: Thank you, Ted.

Charlie Ester: Manager of Water Resource Operations, SRP

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