One of the questions asked by a Buckeye City Council member at its Aug. 17 meeting got the quickest of responses.
“I can’t express how important it is for the city to have a voice in this discussion,” said Alisha Solano in answering Council member Craig Huestis’ question about Buckeye’s interest level in Bartlett Dam surface water. “This is a tremendous opportunity for a city this far west to have a chance to get some SRP surface water — especially since we are so far to the west.”
Solano, the city’s water resources director, presented ideas showing how much newly diverted water could be generated annually for Salt River Project customers if Bartlett Dam were to be increased in height. A chart showed, in acre feet, how much water could be diverted if the dam were raised by either 62 or 97 feet in height.
But first, Solano said, comes a feasibility study. The cost of that study could be shared by as many as 20 Valley cities, presumably all of which could benefit from SRP surface water.
“We always want to diversify and be less dependent on groundwater,” Solano said. “Buckeye needs to be at the table. This gets us there.”
The council unanimously approved a memo of understanding with SRP to be involved in discussions about Bartlett Dam improvements and water and to commit to paying for its share of the feasibility study. Solano said she will return to council later this fall with a proposal for the council to authorize a specific amount for its share of the feasibility study.
City officials would not speculate on whether Buckeye could get water from an expanded Bartlett Dam. The city currently gets its water from wells.
Similar MOUs with about 20 other cities were included in the Aug. 17 meeting packet. The Peoria City Council also unanimously approved entering into the MOU at a public meeting on Aug. 17.
Built in the late 1930s spanning the Verde River, Bartlett is a concrete multiple-arch buttress dam that created Bartlett Lake. Its primary purpose is irrigation water supply, according to SRP.
It was the first dam constructed on the Verde River and the first dam of its type constructed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Not long after earning its place on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017, the dam showed it could not work magic: Fires, drought and other factors have pushed sediment down the river. As early as last October, SRP began publicly discussing the needs for a feasibility study around large-scale issues, including some at Horseshoe Reservoir and Roosevelt Dam.
At 308.5 feet tall, the dam lacks hydroelectric generating capabilities of most of the Salt River dams. Bartlett Lake, with 2,700 acres of surface area at capacity, is larger than all the Salt River reservoirs except Roosevelt. When it’s full, the lake can hold more than 178,000 acre-feet of water.
“Armed with research and input from stakeholders and partnering with federal agencies and other agencies, SRP will continue to invest in its infrastructure to help improve the management of Arizona’s most precious resource,” SRP said in a statement. “SRP believes that, through this appraisal process, it will find a solution that helps meet the needs of central Arizona for the next century, ensures the resiliency of its system, and reduces central Arizona’s dependency on fossil groundwater.”
SRP has more than 8.3 million acres of watershed in its charge. It delivers more than 800,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Salt and Verde Rivers to 10 cities and towns and some agricultural customers.