COOLIDGE — At long last, a parched sector of the local agriculture industry is about to get a drink.
Farmers in central Pinal County have been informed that they will once again be receiving water from San Carlos Lake in the coming days, about nine months after Coolidge Dam stopped releasing water for the first time.
The water is expected to be released on Friday and should arrive at Pinal County farms as soon as Monday, thanks to recent wet weather making the water beds more efficient for easy flowing. As usual, the amount of water released will depend on how much farmers demand, as they prepare land that has been running on empty for a new harvest.
San Carlos Irrigation Project, which operates the dam, stopped releasing water from the lake in Gila County after the level got so low it couldn’t even reach the release point. After nine months, though, the lake has creeped back up to about 117,000 acre-feet of storage, enough to start letting some of it go.
This has been a long time coming for San Carlos Irrigation and Drainage District farmers in the area of Coolidge, Florence and Casa Grande, many of whom have had to plant only a fraction of their land because there simply wasn’t any water to utilize the rest.
Now the hope is to make that water last. The district, which manages the water flow to the farms, will continue to subsidize the lake supply with its groundwater wells, which are running at maximum capacity.
However, SCIDD and its farmers have their work cut out for them. Unlike northern Arizona, which received a higher than normal amount of snow this winter, the snowpack in the mountains of western New Mexico, which supplies the Gila River and thus San Carlos Lake with water, has been disappointing, according to SCIDD Business Manager Sally Van Arsdale. This means there won’t be a consistently high amount of water coming into the lake.
“We’re better off than where we were this time last year, but we’re still not in great shape,” Van Arsdale said. “We’re just going to try to get our farmers further into the summer than we did a year ago.”