The C.C. Cragin Reservoir not only overflowed last weekend, it sent more water rushing over the spillway that Payson will use in a year once the town fires up its new pipeline in April.
After nearly two years of sitting half empty, 3,000 acre-feet rushed over the dam’s bypass, sending more than 76 cubic feet per second cascading down East Clear Creek toward the Little Colorado River.
The reservoir’s watershed had received 12 inches of precipitation since Jan. 1, according to SRP, as of Monday.
Water rushed into all the reservoirs on the Salt and Verde rivers, according to Jeffrey Lane, a spokesperson with the Salt River Project.
Some 108,000 acre-feet of runoff flowed into the Salt and Verde reservoirs on Sunday and Monday — a little more than those reservoirs received in all of last winter and spring, said Lane.
The Verde River system of reservoirs alone received 9,000 acre-feet of runoff in just 24 hours last weekend.
The storms pushed snow and rainfall figures for Arizona watersheds well above normal, punctuating an unusually dry November and December.
Payson has rights to about 3,000 acre-feet of water per year from the C.C. Cragin Reservoir and had planned to take delivery for the first time last year.
However, a bone-dry 2017-18 winter left the reservoir about 20 percent full in the spring — prompting Payson to delay completion of the pipeline.
Normally, Payson uses about 1,800 acre-feet annually from its network of 42 wells.
The Bureau of Reclamation reports a healthy snowpack throughout Arizona.
The measuring stations put the snowpack on the Verde River watershed at 137 percent of normal and the central Mogollon Rim at 125 percent of normal as of Monday.
Snowpack throughout the western United States has mostly reached normal levels, a welcome break from 20 years of intermittent drought that mostly cut rainfall and snowpack levels in half.
Despite the welcome snowfall throughout the West, the high-stakes struggle over how to cope with projected shortages on the Colorado River continues to bedevil the West.
Seven western states have laid claim to about a million acre-feet more water than flows in the Colorado River in a normal year, never mind a drought.
Arizona appeared near approving a deal to reduce its use of Colorado River water to prevent a shortage, but a dispute between the Gila River Indian Community and Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bower has thrown the proposed agreement into doubt.
Lake Mead was sitting at less than half full — and about two feet lower than at the same time last year.
The elevation of the surface of the lake was 1,088 feet, 142 feet below full pool. If the level falls to 1,075 feet, the federal government could impose rationing. Arizona gets about 15 percent of its water from the Colorado River.
If the seven western states don’t come up with a plan to share the shortage, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation can simply impose water rationing on the states.
Of the seven states, Arizona and Nevada have the lowest priority in case of a shortage.
However, a chain of winter storms brought on by a weak El Niño surface water warming in the eastern Pacific Ocean has at least delivered a normal winter.
Lane predicted the Cragin reservoir will continue to overfill and spill water into East Clear Creek on into the late spring.
The reservoir represents the only place in the state where water is diverted from one watershed into a completely different watershed.
Normally, the 64,000-acre reservoir would drain into the Little Colorado, which in turn merges with the Colorado River in the heart of the Grand Canyon.
Instead, SRP pumps water out of the 15,000-acre-foot reservoir into a pipeline that empties into the East Verde River near Washington Park.
Payson’s pipeline will divert its 3,000-acre-foot share of water before it goes into the East Verde.
SRP’s roughly 11,000-acre-foot allotment flows down the East Verde into the Verde River and on down to the chain of reservoirs near Phoenix.
The C.C. Cragin Reservoir normally overflows a little every spring, but hasn’t reached the spillway since 2017 due to the drought.
SRP’s biggest reservoir remains Roosevelt Lake, which was less than half full.
However, the smaller reservoirs on the Verde River have nearly filled in the past several weeks.
Combined, Horseshoe and Bartlett lakes have more than 217,000 acre-feet of water stored, about 76 percent of capacity, as the Roundup went to print. Since Feb. 1, the Verde system has gained over 116,000 acre-feet in storage.
During the peak of the storm, SRP was releasing up to 4,000 acre-feet per second from the Verde River reservoirs, mostly to clear space in the reservoirs for additional runoff.
Meanwhile, the roaring Salt River in just 24 hours during one recent storm added 10,000 acre-feet to Roosevelt, bringing it up to 47 percent full with 767,000 acre-feet in storage.
Since Feb. 1, Roosevelt Lake has added nearly 97,000 acre-feet, said Lane.
Early in the week, Tonto Creek and the Salt River were adding about 4,100 cubic feet per second to Roosevelt.
Salt River flows were six times normal, or 3,700 cubic feet per second. Flows in Tonto Creek were 10 times normal or 680 csf. Flows in the Verde River were 14 times normal or 2,700 csf.
More than 200 people danced the night away Saturday during the MHA Foundation’s annual Black and White Ball.
Sonoran Swing provided the big band sounds for this year’s “Aspire to the Stars” ball, which had a celestial theme in honor of the group’s work with the Aspire Arizona Foundation (AAF).
Several AAF and Payson Center for Success students attended to celebrate their hard work.
Since 2016, AAF has helped 256 Payson students take dual-enrollment courses at Gila Community College, funding more than $85,000 in tuition costs.
Kyla Pacheco, an AAF student, said thanks to the program, she already has college credit and will graduate Payson High School with an associate degree. She plans to become a nature conservationist.
“These students are highly motivated and they will realize a brighter future and continue to reach new heights that they hadn’t thought to aspire to before,” said Sanja S. Long, CEO of the MHA Foundation.
“Part of the MHA Foundation’s missions is to promote education, which is why we are so pleased to partner with Aspire Arizona Foundation to benefit Payson High School students that are enrolled in the dual-credit program,” Long said.
Ivan Wade, another AAF student, played a video he shot that included interviews with AAF donors, who explained why they had given to the foundation, as well as students, who shared how the program has impacted their lives.
At Saturday’s silent auction during the ball, $6,500 was raised.
When the National Weather Service says, “You guys are under the gun for heavy snow” — you take them seriously.
The NWS issued a winter storm warning for Rim Country Wednesday that extended through Friday afternoon, as the Roundup went to print. The paper printed earlier than normal to give route drivers a chance to deliver the Roundup safely Friday.
It was predicted Payson could receive from 25 to 33 inches of snow and Pine-Strawberry, 30 to 38 inches.
They were the highest snowfall totals predicted in the state.
Flagstaff meteorologist Brian Klimowski said there are several reasons why Rim Country could receive the weight of the storm.
“Because the upslope (of the Rim) is ideal, the winds blow up the mountains and form snow,” said Klimowski. “It’s pretty common that the central Mogollon Rim gets the brunt of our storms.”
He said storms like this come every five years or so in Rim Country.
As a precaution, Gila Community College and Payson Unified School District canceled classes for Thursday and Friday.
Klimowski warned conditions could severely limit travel with four inches of new snow predicted every six hours.
Under such conditions, the Arizona Department of Transportation strongly suggests motorists stay home until a storm passes.
“Because sections of highway in northern Arizona can close due to crashes and heavy snow during extreme winter storms, the safest option is always to wait out the storm before driving,” said ADOT in a press release. “A highway takes much longer to plow when it’s jammed with vehicles that shouldn’t be traveling on a roadway that’s slick with snow and ice.”
That said, ADOT crews stood ready to plow as they had for the storm that hit Rim Country earlier in the week. As conditions deteriorate, ADOT and DPS have the option to shut down highways.
APS also stood ready for any outages.
“We plan years in advance to make sure the right resources are on the system, with the right infrastructure in place to help get that energy from power plant to your home,” said Suzanne Trevino, a spokesperson with APS. “No matter how much we prepare, events such as snowstorms can cause major damage to our system.”
Whenever an outage occurs, Trevino asks customers to report them at aps.com/outages.
Meteorologists say a weak El Niño system created the perfect conditions for this storm.
El Niño warms up the equatorial waters in the Pacific and this floods the southern jet stream with moisture, Klimowski explained. When the northern jet stream dips, a significant storm results.
“Sometimes (the jet stream) acts like a battleground with the moisture from the southern jet stream colliding with the cold air from the north,” said Klimowski. “This, like the previous storm, is coming straight down from Western Canada.”
The storm is expected to turn and head east by Friday night with sunny conditions returning Saturday.
So far this year, Rim Country has received more precipitation than normal.
“Since Jan. 1, you’ve had 5.5 inches of precipitation,” said Klimowski, as of Tuesday. “The normal is 3.9 inches.”
Temperatures and weather patterns should remain stable thereafter.
“All indications that I’m seeing is there will be a return to near normal conditions for March and April — about two inches of rain and four inches of snow,” he said.
Every day, local firefighters and police are called on to help Rim Country’s seniors. In fact, those health calls make up the majority of their responses.
But first responders often find themselves without the resources they need to solve the problems they encounter — dementia, poor nutrition, isolation and financial difficulties.
Joanne Conlin and staff from Payson Senior Center decided to attack the problem head-on.
They recently invited first responders and support service volunteers to a roundtable on the subject. The brainstorming session focused on what problems responders see and possible solutions.
Payson Police Chief Don Engler said his officers see many seniors who cannot perform tasks such as feeding, cleaning and dressing themselves.
“Unfortunately, we have a lot of seniors who moved into the community and a spouse proceeded them in death, then they don’t have anyone in the community to support them,” he said.
Some need help with finances and remembering to pay bills.
“They need help with financial decisions,” said Engler. “They need somebody that can remind them to pay their bills.”
Payson Fire Department Battalion Chief Dan Bramble said there is a need for emergency housing for seniors.
“They may be displaced from their home for a couple of days or months,” he said. “There is that gap when the Red Cross stops to when we get that person back into their house.”
Chuck Proudfoot, who works with organizations that provide help with basic services such as food, rent and utilities, said seniors need help after hospitalization.
“A crisis happens and there really is no place for them to go back to,” he said. “The home might be alright, but they’ve broken something and they can’t get around the house.”
Volunteers with St. Vincent de Paul reported transportation to the Valley as their most challenging service to provide.
One senior had troubles with his Social Security check, for example, and only a visit to the office would solve the problem.
“We were lucky somebody volunteered to go all the way to Mesa to the Social Security office,” said a St. Vincent de Paul volunteer.
Volunteers also said seniors need rides to medical specialists not available in Rim Country.
Other seniors struggle with domestic violence.
The MHA Foundation provides clothing and supplies to those who escape abuse.
Which brought the first responders to a particularly difficult subject — dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“Some people are starting with the steps of Alzheimer’s or dementia, but the family can’t be here for four or five hours,” said Sgt. Jason Hazelo. “We can’t stand by because we might have something else going on ... having someone in the community to follow through would be helpful.”
Sometimes seniors call 911 just to talk.
“We get quite a few calls on medical (and) they just want to talk,” said Hazelo. “So, you’ll offer services. There’s a couple of times they’ve said, ‘Hey, I’m sick, but I don’t want to be transported. (They say) ‘Gee it’s good to see you today.’”
As the list of troubles pile up, some seniors turn to suicide.
Darren Fry, from Community Bridges, said there’s a free crisis hotline to call for help in an emergency.
“If someone is suffering from physical or mental issue (there is) somebody to sit there and talk to,” he said. “The number is 877-756-4090.”
Conlin said she appreciated hearing what the first responders had to say. She and the Senior Center staff are coming up with ideas to address these concerns.
“One program we are talking about is Seniors Without Walls,” she said. “People are just plain old lonely.”
This program would set up seniors with support groups and/or individuals to just talk.
Conlin said she would keep the conversation and ideas going.