River Reservoir Levels

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Winter rain and snow will help fill reservoirs on the Colorado, Salt and Verde rivers. Charlie Ester, a water-resources manager for Salt River Project, will tell us more.

TED: WE'VE HAD A LOT OF RAIN AND SNOW THIS WINTER. BUT HOW DID THE PRECIPITATION IMPACT THE STATE'S WATER SUPPLY, SPECIFICALLY RESERVOIRS. CHARLIE ESTHER JOINS I NOW.

CHARLIE ESTER: THANK YOU, TED.

TED: WE HAD A LOT OF RECENT RAIN HERE. IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DAY TODAY. DID IT HELP THE WATER? IT HAD TO HAVE HELPED THE WATER SUPPLY.

CHARLIE ESTER: WE HAVE GOTTEN AN ABUNDANT AMOUNT OF RUNOFF. OUR RESERVOIRS HAVE COME UP OVER 400,000 ACRE FEET. THAT'S ROUGHLY HALF OF THE AMOUNT OF WATER WE USE IN A YEAR.

TED: SO DECEMBER 15th, WE WERE STILL LOOKING AT DIRE STRAITS HERE, CONCERN, WORRY. NOW, THE WORRY IS STILL THERE, BUT NOT SO MUCH?

CHARLIE ESTER: I REALLY KIND OF DISAGREE WITH YOU THAT WE WERE IN DIRE STRAITS. THE PHOENIX AREA HAS A FANTASTICALLY RELIABLE AND SUSTAINABLE WATER SUPPLY. WERE CONDITIONS POOR? YES. OUR RESERVOIRS WERE ONLY 44% FULL AND NOW THEY ARE 60% FULL. THINGS ARE CERTAINLY A LOT BETTER. WE NEED TO GET BETTER YET STILL,THOUGH.

TED: DOES -- WATCH OUT FOR THE ALARMISTS. IT SEEMED LIKE IT WAS FOREVER SUNSHINE AND THE RESERVOIRS WERE LOW. IF YOU DON'T SEE THAT STORM COMING IN, YOU WORRY A LITTLE BIT.

CHARLIE ESTER: ABSOLUTELY. LAST WINTER WAS SUPPOSED TO BE OUR SAVIOR WITH THE GIANT EL NINO AND WE GOT NO RAIN WHATEVER. THIS YEAR WAS A WEAK LA NINA. IT LOOKS LIKE WE MIGHT BE WRONG TWO YEARS IN A ROW.

TED: ESPECIALLY THIS YEAR. AS FAR AS ARIZONA SNOW PACK, HOW WE LOOKING?

CHARLIE ESTER: FANTASTIC. ON THE VERDE RIVER WATERSHED, WE ARE CLOSE TO 200% OF NORMAL FOR THIS TIME OF YEAR.

TED: MY GOODNESS.

CHARLIE ESTER: OVER ON THE SALT, IT'S A LITTLE BIT MORE THAN 100%.

TED: WHAT ABOUT THE FORECAST RUNOFF.

CHARLIE ESTER: THE FORECAST RIGHT NOW IS FOR WELL ABOVE NORMAL RUNOFF. I THINK WE'LL FILL UP SOME OF OUR RESERVOIRS. ROOSEVELT, THOUGH, IS ONLY 50% FULL. IT'S OUR LARGEST RESERVOIR. I THINK WE NEED TO GET SOME MORE STORMS.

TED: AND LET'S START VERDE. 180% OF NORMAL THAN SNOWPACK UP THERE?

CHARLIE ESTER: YES, IT IS.

TED: THAT'S GREAT NEWS.

CHARLIE ESTER: WE HAVEN'T SEEN SNOW PACK LIKE THAT SINCE 2010.

TED: BEFORE THAT, HOW LONG? MORE OF AN OCCURRENCE BEFORE THAT?

CHARLIE ESTER: NO, WE'VE BEEN IN THIS DROUGHT SITUATION SINCE '95. I'D SAY 2005 WAS ALSO A GOOD YEAR.

TED: SNOW PACK ON THE SALT, 100%. BEFORE THAT?

CHARLIE ESTER: IT WASN'T MORE THAN A FEW PERCENT.

TED: OH, MY GOODNESS. I WOULD THINK THIS WOULD BE GOOD NEWS FOR ROOSEVELT LAKE. WHY IS IT A LAGGARD THERE?

CHARLIE ESTER: IT'S RECEIVED FAR MORE WATER THAN THE VERDE, BUT IT'S SO LARGE. 70% OF OUR TOTAL RESERVOIR SUPPLY IS IN ROOSEVELT. FOR IT TO COME UP A LOT, IT HAS TO TAKE A LOT OF WATER IN. SO IT'S COME UP FAR MORE THAN THE VERDE HAS.

TED: ARE WE GOING TO SEE DOWNSTREAM RUNOFF?

CHARLIE ESTER: I THINK WE MAY SEE SOME.

TED: REALLY.

CHARLIE ESTER: BUT IT WILL INITIALLY BE FROM THE VERDE SIDE. THAT SIDE WAS A LITTLE BIT BETTER THAN THE SALT SIDE. THE RESERVOIRS THERE ARE MUCH SMALLER.

TED: AS FAR AS GROUND WATER, OBVIOUSLY YOU GOT YOUR GROUND WATER AND RESERVOIR WATER, LESS PUMPING, DO YOU THINK?

CHARLIE ESTER: I SUSPECT BY THE TIME WE'RE DONE WITH THIS SEASON, WE WILL REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF PUMPING THAT WE'RE DOING. IF WE CAN GET SOME RUNOFF HERE THROUGH THE VALLEY, RELEASES THROUGH THE DAMS THAT FLOW THROUGH, GREAT WAY TO RECHARGE THAT REGIONAL AQUIFER ALSO. THE REGIONAL AQUIFER IS A WATER-BEARING STRATUM UNDERNEATH ALL OF THE PHOENIX AREA. IT'S ROCKS AND SAND AND SUCH. IT HOLDS A GREAT DEAL OF WATER. MILLIONS OF ACRE FEET OF WATER. FAR MORE THAN OUR RESERVOIRS COULD EVER HOLD. WE RELY ON THAT WATER DURING DROUGHT CONDITIONS AS OUR LAST RESORT.

TED: YOU'RE SAYING THAT COULD SEE SOME REPLENISHMENT GOING ON.

CHARLIE ESTER: WE COULD VERY WELL SEE QUITE A BIT. GET SOME WATER FLOWING THROUGH THE VALLEY FOR A FEW WEEKS.

TED: CAN YOU TALK ABOUT ROCKY MOUNTAIN SNOW PACK?

CHARLIE ESTER: SURE CAN. COLORADO IS DOING REALLY WELL ALSO. THE ENTIRE WESTERN UNITED STATESIS DOING REALLY WELL. YOU'VE SEEN CALIFORNIA OF COURSE.

TED: NORTHERN CALIFORNIA DOESN'T HAVE A DROUGHT ANYMORE, IS THAT TRUE?

CHARLIE ESTER: I THINK IT'S PREMATURE TO SAY ANY OF THESE DROUGHTS ARE OVER YET. GETTING BACK TO COLORADO, THEIR SNOW PACK IS MUCH LARGER THAN THE SALT ON THE VERDE. THEY ARE RUNNING ABOUT 160% OF NORMAL. FOR THE RUNOFF PERIOD APRIL THROUGH JULY INTO LAKE POWELL, 10 MILLION ACRE FEET OF WATER.

TED: HOW MUCH MORE -- AGAIN DECEMBER 15th WHEN WE WERE NOT IN DIRE STRAITS, BUT A LITTLE CONCERNED. WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEN AND NOW?

CHARLIE ESTER: I THINK ON THE COLORADO IT'S GONE UP 4 MILLION ACRE FEET.

TED: PERCENTAGE-WISE?

CHARLIE ESTER: OH, I WOULD -- I BETTER NOT HAZARD A GUESS.

TED: IT SOUNDS LIKE LAKE MEAD COULD BE OUT OF THE WOODS A LITTLE BIT?

CHARLIE ESTER: I THINK WE HAVE A REAL GOOD OPPORTUNITY TO PUSH THAT SHORTAGE DECLARATION OUT ANOTHER YEAR OR TWO. IT'S NOT GOING TO GO AWAY SIMPLY BECAUSE OF THE STRUCTURAL DEFICIT ON THE COLORADO. WE USE FAR MORE WATER THAN THE RIVER PROVIDES AND AT SOME POINT IT'S GOING TO CATCH UP TO US.

TED: I WAS GOING TO SAY. WE WERE ANGLING -- SHOWS HERE ON THE PROGRAM REGARDING WATER RESTRICTIONS IF LAKE MEAD DOESN'T GET ITS ACT TOGETHER.

CHARLIE ESTER: A LITTLE BIT. IF LAKE POWELL DOES GET 10 MILLION ACRE FEET OF WATER IN IT, I SUSPECT THEY'LL RELEASE A LITTLE BIT MORE THAN PLANNED INTO LAKE MEAD.

TED: IS THE DROUGHT OVER IN ARIZONA? YOU ALMOST DIDN'T LET ME FINISH THE QUESTION. IT'S NO ISN'T IT?

CHARLIE ESTER: I WOULD SAY THE SHORT ANSWER IS NO. WE HAVE BEEN IN SUCH DRY CONDITIONS FOR THE LAST SIX YEARS FOR SURE THAT IT WOULD BE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE FOR ONE SEASON OF GOOD WEATHER, YOU KNOW, OF WET WEATHER TO REALLY ELIMINATE THE -- ALL THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE DROUGHT. DOES IT HELP, ABSOLUTELY, IT HELPS. THINGS ARE GOING TO BE SO MUCH BETTER OFF. BUT WE REALLY NEED TWO OR THREE WET WINTERS TO REALLY DECLARE THE DROUGHT OVER.

TED: I'VE HEARD SOME FOLKS SAY WE'RE RELYING TOO MUCH ON THESE FREAK MONSTER STORMS THAT COME THROUGH. THE WINTER SEASON, WE'VE GOT A WAYS TO GO HERE. WE MAY NOT SEE ANOTHER DROP FOR THE NEXT COUPLE MONTHS.

CHARLIE ESTER: IT WILL RAIN AND SNOW A LOT IN DECEMBER, EARLY JANUARY AND SHUTS OFF. MY FEAR RIGHT NOW WAS AT THE END OF THE SEASON AND WE DON'T GET ANYMORE, BUT THAT DOESN'T TAKE AWAY FROM THE FACT THAT WE DO HAVE A LOT OF SNOW ON THE MOUNTAIN. WE'RE GOING TO GET MORE RUNOFF. EVEN IF IT DOESN'T RAIN MORE THIS WINTER SEASON, WE'RE FAR BETTER OFF THAN WE WERE.

TED: AND BOTTOM LINE HERE, HOW MUCH BETTER OFF IS THE ARIZONA WATER SUPPLY RIGHT NOW?

CHARLIE ESTER: I WOULD SAY -- WE HAVE BASICALLY BEEN GIVEN AN ENTIRE YEAR'S WORTH OF WATER.

TED: ARE YOU SERIOUS? ARE YOU SURPRISED BY THAT?

CHARLIE ESTER: NO, I'M NOT. ANYONE THAT'S STUDIES CLIMATE IN THE WEST KNOWS THAT THESE DROUGHTS -- I'M GOING TO PRETEND LIKE IT MAY HAVE ENDED. BUT THESE DROUGHTS END WITH DRAMATIC STORMS AND OFTEN FLOOD EVENTS. SO -- AND WE FORGET THAT. BIG YEARS ARE REAL COMMON.

TED: WE FORGET THAT THE WEATHER IN THE WEST, CALIFORNIA, ARIZONA, IT CAN BE VERY VOLATILE.

CHARLIE ESTER: ABSOLUTELY.

TED: COMES AND GOES. ALL RIGHT. IF I RUN INTO SOMEONE AND THEY SAY I SAW YOU TALKING TO CHARLIEGUY FROM SRP, I STILL BELIEVE WE HAVE A REAL WATER CRISIS, WHAT DOES CHARLIE SAY ABOUT THAT?

CHARLIE ESTER: I SAY REGARDLESS OF OUR WATER SUPPLY, WE NEED TO USE EVERY DROP OF WATER THAT IS PRECIOUS. IT IS IN FACT PRECIOUS. USE IT WISELY. IF WE ACT AND BEHAVE AS IF WE ARE ALWAYS IN A DROUGHT, WE WILL ALWAYS BE PREPARED FOR A DROUGHT.

TED: ALL RIGHT.GOOD ADVICE, GOOD INFORMATION.GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE.

CHARLIE ESTER: THANK YOU.

Charlie Ester: Salt River Project water-resources manager

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