Salt River flooding to continue around Phoenix-area with more rain on the way

The National Weather Service in Phoenix is predicting more moisture this week, which they say will accelerate the snowmelt.
Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 5:44 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 13, 2023 at 11:27 PM MST
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TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Winter delivered in Arizona in terms of rainfall and snowfall up north. The Salt River Project, or SRP, says it’s been the best winter for Arizona waterways in nearly 30 years.

Some reservoirs are now full, which is causing some flooding in the Valley. SRP releases small amounts of water at a time through the dams, traveling down the Verde and Salt Rivers until it reaches Tempe Town Lake, then overflows into some low crossings. “We’ve been releasing water from the Verde River, Reservoirs, Horseshoe and Bartlett to deal with the capture of the high inflows from the snowmelts,” said Bo Svoma, a meteorologist with SRP.

He says these releases are expected to continue. “If we get a rain event, the releases could go to a high volume in a given hour there might be a lot coming down the river based on the flood,” he said.

The National Weather Service in Phoenix predicts more moisture this week, which they say will accelerate the snowmelt. “On Wednesday we’re expecting probably about a quarter inch in the Valley and higher terrain locations, maybe a half-inch. So that that will result in extra water. Even local runoff will be entering the different river and wash systems,” said Michael Schaffer, a National Weather Service Hydrologist.

SRP says the flooding could expand depending on the amount of rain, “If the storm comes in stronger than expected, even a little bit, we may have to elevate the amount we’re releasing from bartlett reservoir,” said Svoma.

Given the drought conditions the Valley has been experiencing over the past several years, experts say this is good news. “That’s really incredible to be able to refill our entire system in one wet winter,” Svoma said. “Right now our storage is higher than it was in the beginning of the drought and it’s the worst drought we can think of in the past 600 to 700 years.”

SRP says this winter season has had the biggest snowpack on the Verde River watershed since 1993. Last week, he says they measured almost 20 inches of snow water equivalent south of Flagstaff, which they say is about two monsoon seasons worth of rainfall.

Regarding what this means for drought and the water crisis, Svoma says Phoenix has three water supplies: groundwater, Colorado River, and water from reservoirs that SRP manages. In terms of groundwater and the reservoirs, he says this is good news. They expect the reservoirs to be full at the end of this winter, and with the reservoirs spilling, he says it’s also recharging the aquifer. But, he admits there is still uncertainty with the Colorado River.

The City of Tempe says there are no homeless encampments in Tempe’s riverbed at this time. Though the Salt River bed in Tempe is a no-trespassing zone and the flow over the dam is expected to be minor, Tempe Police and the HOPE team have been made aware, according to standard procedures. In addition, the police department and HOPE consistently practice weekly in-person visits to ensure there are no new encampments in the area.