In about two weeks, the East Verde River should get a gush of water that will delight fishermen, sun bathers, pool swimmers -- and cliff jumpers trying to impress the girls -- or boys for that matter.
Salt River Project engineers have rebuilt the creaky system that delivers water from the distant Blue Ridge Reservoir and releases it into the East Verde.
The flow of water could increase flows 10-fold, providing a late summer paradise for anyone who likes to play in the water. The East Verde boasts a long, meandering chain of trout pools, stocked weekly by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
"They said if we ever got this son of a gun running good, they would increase the stocking," said John Hunter, an operations supervisor for SRP.
In addition, a series of pools and waterfalls between first and second crossings off Houston Mesa Road are a favorite playground for locals.
The project is part of a $5 million rebuild of the pipeline from the reservoir high on the Rim down the great swooping distance to the East Verde, which flows to Horseshoe Reservoir and into Phoenix faucets.
Payson has negotiated rights to 3 of the 11 million acre feet in the reservoir and now must raise $30 million to build a pipeline . SRP owns the rest of that water and can use Payson's share as well for the 8 or 10 years it will take to build the pipeline.
SRP has closed the spigots to fix leaks in the pipeline up on the Rim and rebuild the control panels and generator, said Hunter.
Residents have relished the steady stream of SRP trucks, in hopes it will restore flows.
SRP tested the system briefly last week. "People were going nuts out here -- damned near had a standing ovation every time I drove through," mused Hunter.
As soon as the engineers finish, they'll unleash a flow of 30 cubic feet per second to expose any technical bugs, perhaps as early as the end of next week. Currently, the flow has dwindled to about 3 csf. That higher flow should continue until September, when ice shuts down the Rim.
That could herald the start of good times for the East Verde, since the Salt River Project can let up to 11 million acre feet flow through the creek. The former operator of the system, Phelps Dodge, released an average of 6 to 8 million acre feet annually, but at irregular intervals.
SRP Manager of Water Resource Operations Charles Ester said the company wants to use the Blue Ridge water, but also needs to keep the Verde River reservoir levels low to help endangered fish and bird species. However, if SRP lets the East Verde dry up, it uses a lot of water to resaturate the soil.
"The Verde is an interesting animal," said Ester. As a result, SRP will likely run water through the river as consistently as possible from May to September every year.