Before I came to Arizona, I pictured it like the Sahara Desert. Gold sand dunes. Gold rocks. Not a plant or a drop of water in sight.
The Sonoran Desert is nothing like that. The prevailing color is green. Everything blooms. The rocks and mountains are red, purple, yellow, orange and brown. The trees don't look like "regular" trees, but they're pretty, and there are a lot of them.
There's one exception: Bartlett Lake is so low, it's starting to remind me of the Sahara Desert. These are Jon Ford's pictures from March 23, 2012.
The water level is starting to rise. It's higher now than it was in March. I've heard that SRP has stopped releasing water from the Bartlett Dam. Visually, it looks just a little lower than it was in November of 2011.
You can check the current water levels here.
Bartlett is still great for swimming. In fact, the swimming situation hasn't changed much at all.
|Start to First Buoy||Buoy Line (One Way)||Total Distance (One Way)|
|Spring 2011||225 Yards||341 Yards||566 Yards|
|Fall 2011||234 Yards||322 Yards||556 Yards|
|Spring 2012||192 Yards||334 Yards||526 Yards|
Bartlett Reservoir is part of the Verde River system. Sullivan Lake, near Prescott, AZ, is the source of the Verde River. It's a man-made lake fed by rain and snow melt from Big Chino Wash and Williamson Valley Wash.
It flows for about 125 miles until it reaches Horseshoe Reservoir. The water flows from the Horseshoe Dam into Bartlett Reservoir. When it passes the the Bartlett Dam, the water returns to the Verde River. From there, it runs free for about 15 miles until it reaches the Salt River.
Most of the land in the Verde River system is national forest land. The water in Horseshoe and Bartlett reservoirs is managed by SRP. That system (along with the Colorado River and Salt River) provides drinking water and hydroelectric power for the Phoenix metropolitan area.
In a normal year, water levels in Bartlett Reservoir can fluctuate wildly. Horseshoe Reservoir usually fills up in the Spring. As the summer heats up, evaporation becomes a problem because it's so shallow. When that happens, Horseshoe is emptied into Bartlett, and Bartlett water levels rise.
As water is released thru the Bartlett Dam, the levels drop.
View Verde River System in a larger map
In Fall/Winter of 2010, Bartlett Reservoir was drained to facilitate repairs to the dam. At the time, everyone I spoke to expected it to fill back up to normal levels by Spring. That didn't happen. The water level rose slightly in the Spring of 2011. And then it dropped steadily for the rest of 2011 and early 2012.
I've never found a definitive answer on why Bartlett Reservoir dropped so low. A dry winter in 2010/211 is part of the story, but I think there's more to it. For whatever reason, most of the water that found its way into Bartlett Reservoir during that time was allowed to pass downstream.
During that same time, the lakes in the Salt River system (Canyon and Sagauro at least) stayed at normal levels.
Here's what Bartlett Lake looked like in August of 2010. The vegetation came right down to the water level
And then in August of 2011:
Have you heard any official news about the water levels? If you know more than I do, please speak up!