Rain, snowmelt filling up Arizona waterways as winemakers face challenges from Mother Nature
PHOENIX - It has been almost a month since officials with the Salt River Project started releasing water into the normally dry Salt and Verde riverbeds due to heavy snow and rain in parts of the state.
The Salt and Verde Rivers, which are fed by lakes north of the Valley, including Roosevelt Dam, both flow into the Granite Reef Dam north of Phoenix. The rivers are running heavier than usual because of releases by SRP, and officials with the utility firm say people will likely see water in the Salt Riverbed into May.
As of 8:00 a.m. on Mar. 27, SRP was releasing 1,300 cubic feet of water per second from Roosevelt Dam.
"Not perfect, but maybe a basketball is something like, somewhat around a cubic foot. 1,300 of those coming every second, full of water," said SRP Meteorologist Bo Svoma, using an analogy to describe the amount of water that is being released.
All that released water has created some interesting water features, as it flows through the Valley. At Tempe Town Lake, a chocolate-colored waterfall has become an cool attraction to residents and out-of-town visitors like Al Nieboer from Michigan.
"I'm impressed. You guys have been under drought restrictions for so long. Finally, you're getting payback," said Nieboer.
The sight of water flowing through the normally-dry Salt River may look good, but Svoma offered a quick reality check about Valley, and its water supply.
"SRP is the biggest single provider of water to the Phoenix metro area, but a lot of the metro area gets its water from the Colorado River, and one wet winter is not going to solve the challenges on Lake Mead," said Svoma.
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The wet weather, meanwhile, has caused a bit of a concern in other parts of the state.
In Northern Arizona, there is a mix of joy for more water, and fear of more flooding damage. In parts of the Sedona area, the water kept rising as rain fell onto snow in the mountains. Alcantara Vineyards was flooded for days.
"There was an island at the confluence, but it’s gone. The island is gone," said Ron Brumley, describing an area where the Verde River and Oak Creek join up, ""
The once sandy beach for guests is misshapen, and on the other side, it has been transformed.
"All that red dirt is from Sedona. It wasn’t there," said Brumley.
The tourism part of Brumley's business has taken a beating this year.
"That killed our business and the Jeeps," said Brumley. "We lost tons of revenue from kayakers, because you can’t put a jeep across here."
There are still horse rides, but the path has been rerouted.
On the other side of the vineyard, the Sangiovese vines were underwater.
"The water was probably well up to that rock wall," said Chris Whitehorn with the Alcantara Vineyards.
Whitehorn says the good news is the vines are dormant. If the flooding happened in a few months, it would be far worse. He is focused on the mud the water brought with it. The mud is nutrient-rich due to soil up north and burn scars, making it perfect for vines.
"It’s deposited in these really nice sedimentary layers," said Whitehorn.
Officials with the vineyard believe the flooding will return soon. They are prepared to make sure no matter what Mother Nature provides, they’ll be ready to fill any wine glass.
"Take something bad and turn it into good. That’s what we can hope for," said Whitehorn.