Recent weather and snowmelt causing dangerous conditions along Salt River

With recent rain and snowmelt, the current has picked up significantly, and the strong waters have turned deadly.
Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 9:22 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 20, 2023 at 10:02 PM MST
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SALT RIVER, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - With recent rain and snowmelt, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office says they made seven water rescues this weekend alone. So now officials are urging the public to hold off on recreational activities in areas like the Salt River. They say it is dangerous right now because of the water current’s strength. “We want everyone to have fun, but at the same time, we don’t want to deal with tragedies,” spokesperson Joaquin Enriquez with the sheriff’s office said.

The Salt River is popular for recreational activities like kayaking, tubing, and paddle boarding. But with recent rain and snowmelt, the current has picked up significantly, and sadly the strong waters have turned deadly.

Over the weekend, an 81-year-old man fell out of his kayak and died. Within the same hour, a family had to be rescued after their kayak capsized in the river. They stayed afloat by holding onto some bushes and trees and were airlifted out.

The next day, another man was airlifted out of the water. That incident happened right near the Phon D Sutton area. That is near where the Verde River meets the Salt River. The National Weather Service says the water levels are eight to 12 feet higher than just four weeks ago. “And that is producing very hazardous currents along the rivers,” meteorologist Jared Heil said.

And that’s because of water releases by SRP. A company meteorologist says it is necessary to do these releases so the dams aren’t compromised. “When you look at this look at the Salt River Water Project Reservoir system, we are 95% at capacity compared to 72% this time last year,” SRP meteorologist Jesus Haro said.

SRP is working closely with law enforcement to ensure Salt River visitors stay safe. Tonto National Forest employees confirm they are blocking off parking lots to prepare for for weather impacts based on the forecasted flood warnings and dam releases. The Sheriff’s Office says having a life jacket on your kayak is the law.