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Central Highlands Planning Area Hydrology -Surface Water (Salt River and Verde River Watersheds)

Salt River Watershed (continued from previous page)

Annual streamflow of the Salt River fluctuates widely. The nearest gage upstream from Roosevelt Lake, with a contributing drainage area of 4,306 mi2, has been in operation since 1913.  The maximum annual flow was over 2.4 maf in 1916, median annual flow has been 518,499 acre-feet and mean annual flow 644,942 acre-feet.  In 2002, an extreme drought year, flow into Roosevelt Lake was at its minimum, about 153,000 acre-feet (Table 5.2-2).  Except for changes due to timber harvesting and beaver removal, the upstream reaches of the river have not been significantly altered (Tellman et al., 1997).  Typically, timber harvesting and fire in mature forests temporarily increases watershed yields due to elimination of the plant cover.  As woody and herbaceous vegetation becomes established, streamflows decline. Recent severe fires in the basin resulted in significant increases in peak flow at several locations. (Neary, et al., 2003)

In the Tonto Creek Basin there is one currently operating, real-time streamflow gage located near the community of Roosevelt north of Gun Creek.  The maximum annual flow at this point was more than 469,000 acre-feet in 1978.  The median annual flow has been about 66,000 acre-feet since 1940.  Similar to the record low flow in the Salt River, the minimum annual flow was about 2,900 acre-feet in 2002 (Table 5.3-2).

There are a relatively large number of major springs in the Salt River Watershed.  In the Tonto Creek Basin, several major springs are located below the Mogollon Rim where groundwater is discharged from southward dipping rocks of a limestone aquifer. Tonto Spring at the headwaters of Tonto Creek is the largest spring in the Tonto Creek Basin with a measured discharge of 1,291 gpm.  Its flow has been relatively stable, and its isotopic and specific-conductance data are similar to those for Fossil Springs in the Verde River Watershed.  This suggests that the same limestone aquifer supplies both springs, which are located approximately 20 miles apart (USGS, 2005a).  In the Salt River Basin, a high concentration of major springs occurs near McNary, where springs emanate from fractured basalt.  Alchesay Spring, which issues from the Supai Formation along the North Fork of the White River, has the greatest reported discharge measurement in the watershed (over 9,000 gpm).  Travertine deposition due to high concentrations of calcium carbonate in source waters occurs at this spring and at Warm Spring along the Salt River (ADWR, 1992).

Several lakes and streams in the watershed have impaired water quality.  Reaches of Tonto Creek and Christopher Creek in the Tonto Creek Basin have exceeded standards for E. coli and nitrate.  The entire reach of Pinto Creek in the Salt River Basin has exceeded the standard for copper due to mining activities in the area. Two lakes in the Salt River Basin have impaired waters including Canyon Lake (dissolved oxygen) and Crescent Lake (high pH) (see Tables 5.2-7 and 5.3-7).

Salt River

Salt River through the Salt River Canyon

Verde River Watershed

Most of the Verde River watershed, and its major watercourse, the Verde River, is located within the boundaries of the Verde River Basin.  Within the planning area, the elevation of the Verde River watershed ranges from about 12,600 feet at Humphrey’s Peak to about 1,750 feet at Bartlett Dam.  The entire watershed encompasses about 6,188 sq. mi. and extends into the Phoenix AMA to the confluence of the Verde River with the Salt River.  The upper parts of the watershed include Big Chino Wash, which originates east of the Aubrey Cliffs northwest of Seligman, and Oak Creek which originates on the Coconino Plateau in the northeastern part of the watershed.  Big Chino Wash is an ephemeral stream that flows southeasterly to Sullivan Lake while Oak Creek is a perennial stream that merges with the Verde River south of Cottonwood.

The Verde River originates in a steep-walled volcanic rock canyon near Paulden below Sullivan Lake Dam (now almost entirely filled with sediment).  Springs feed the headwaters near the upper end of Stillman Lake.  The lake is a narrow, 3,900 foot-long, 20-acre impoundment  formed from sediment deposited in the river at the Granite Creek confluence causing the river to back-up in its channel. (USFWS, 2007).   Just below the confluence with Granite Creek, a large diffuse spring network, including Big Chino Spring and Sullivan Lake Spring, sustain perennial flow in the river.  A USGS study found that discharge from the springs below Sullivan Lake Dam are derived from three groundwater sources; the western part of the Coconino Plateau, the Big Chino Sub-basin and the Little Chino Sub-basin (part of the Prescott AMA) (USGS, 2006).  Another USGS study used geochemical data to estimate the various base flow contributions to the Verde River.  It reported that 80-86% of the base flow is from the Big Chino Sub-basin, 14% from the Little Chino Sub-basin, 10-15% from the Devonian-Cambrian zone of the regional carbonate aquifer and <6% from the Mississippi-Devonian sequence of the regional carbonate aquifer (USGS, 2005c).

Sullivan Dam

Sullivan Lake Dam.  The Verde River is perennial throughout its length from just below Sullivan Lake Dam.

Below Granite Creek, the Verde River flows eastward to Perkinsville, southeastward to Fossil Creek, then southward through two reservoirs, Horseshoe and Bartlett, before its confluence with the Salt River.  Bartlett Dam was constructed between 1936-1939 to store water for irrigation and other uses in the Phoenix metropolitan area.  Ten miles upstream, Horseshoe Dam was completed in 1946 by Phelps Dodge for the Salt River Valley Water Users’ Association under a water exchange agreement.  Both reservoirs are operated by SRP.

The Verde River is perennial throughout its length from just below Sullivan Lake Dam. Almost all the major perennial tributaries to the river drain areas to the north and east.  In addition to Oak Creek, other major tributaries are Wet Beaver Creek, West Clear Creek, Sycamore Creek (at Fort McDowell) and East Verde River.  Stream flows in the watershed can be substantial given the relatively high elevation and associated high rainfall and snowfall.  Several stream gages on the Verde and its tributaries have reported annual maximum flows exceeding one million AFA. These gages are the Oak Creek gage near Cornville, the Verde River below Tangle Creek above Horseshoe Dam gage and the Verde River at Bartlett Reservoir near Cave Creek gage.  The median flows at these gages are about 531,000 acre-feet, 131,000 acre-feet and 245,000 acre-feet, respectively (see Table 5.5-2).  The lowest flow reported at the Oak Creek gage was about 214,500 acre-feet in 1956.

Many major and minor springs occur in the Verde River Basin (see Table 5.5-5) including Fossil Springs, near Strawberry, with a total discharge of over 21,000 gpm.  Fossil Springs consist of several dozen discharge points with most of the flow emanating from about a half dozen points. The largest of the springs reportedly issues from the Fossil Springs fault while other springs issue from the Naco Formation near its contact with the underlying Redwall limestone (Gæaorama Inc., 2006).  The Naco Formation consists of interbedded grayish limestone and limey claystone and is located between the overlying Supai Formation and the Redwall limestone in this area.  The chemistry of the springs below the Mogollon Rim is characteristic of water from the Coconino Aquifer, suggesting its source.  Fossil Springs contain elevated concentrations of calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate as well as chloride and sulfate (USGS, 2005a).  Calcium carbonate precipitates out below the springs and forms travertine dams along Fossil Creek.

Major springs also occur along upper and lower Oak Creek. In the north half of Oak Creek Canyon, water moves along fractured rock of the Oak Creek fault zone to discharge at springs along the creek (Owen-Joyce, 1983).  Several springs are also found along lower Oak Creek, south of Camp Verde and below the Mogollon Rim north of Payson.  Here, water infiltrating through sedimentary rocks discharges at springs along the face of the rim at fractures or at the interface of permeable and less permeable rocks.

Impaired surface waters in the Verde Watershed occur along the East Verde River (selenium), Oak Creek (E. coli), Pecks and Stoneman lakes (dissolved oxygen, high pH and nutrients),  Whitehorse Lake (dissolved oxygen) and along reaches of the Verde River (turbidity).  (See Table 5.5-7 and Figure 5.5-9).



For more information on surface water in the Central Highlands Planning Area see Streams (for surface water conditions) and Springs (for perennial/intermittent streams and springs) in the menu to the right.

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