Boaters, tubers and fishermen are finding shallower river waters at the edge of East Valley as the busiest days approach for the spring and summer recreation season on the Salt and Verde rivers.
But flows are expected to remain just deep and strong enough to provide an ample playground for river fun-seekers, said officials and recreation business owners.
Salt River Project is maintaining its 30 percent reduction in water to the Valley as statewide drought persists. As part of that plan, the utility is keeping flows in the lower Salt and Verde rivers down to about 500 cubic feet per second. That's compared with flows as high as 1,800 cfs before the drought, said SRP spokesman Scott Harelson.
What it means to boaters and tubers is that "you'll see the water more shallow than in the past and you'll get a slower ride down the river, but's it's still an adequate flow,’’ Harelson said. Salt River Tubing and Recreation, which supplies gear to a few thousand tubers every week in late spring and summer, plans to open its season as usual May 15, said Linda Breault, who co-owns the company with her husband, Henry.
The lower Salt River has seen flows as low as 500 cfs in the past, but it didn't hurt business.
“We wish (the flow) could be higher, but even when it has been a little shallower and slower, the tubers still have just as much fun,’’ Linda Breault said.
Levels in the Salt River flowing from below the Stewart Mountain dam at Saguaro Lake toward the East Valley are “low enough that you can walk across (the river) in most places,’’ said Jason Scow, a recreation supervisor in the Mesa district of the Tonto National Forest.
“But as long as people can still float in it, the crowds will come out,’’ he said.
Conditions are similar below Bartlett Lake outside the north East Valley, where the Verde River begins its flow south to meet the Salt River.
The waters are just deep enough to keep a canoe going, “although you might have to get out and pull it over some rocky spots,’’ said Kelly Jardine, a recreation supervisor for the Tonto Forest's Cave Creek district.
Officials caution that shallower, slower-flowing water does not make river recreation more safe. Drownings, boating and tubing accidents occur at about the same rate as in deeper waters, they said.
The lower rate of flow isn't diminishing the wildlife habitat, said Rory Aikens, Arizona Game and Fish Department spokesman.
The rivers are sustaining normal levels of bird and fish populations, as well as mammals as large as bighorn sheep, Aikens said.
Water levels still are deep and steady enough that Game and Fish on Thursday stocked the Salt River in the Tonto Forest with up to 3,000 rainbow trout, he said.