Water storage tanks high in the Catalina Mountains are filled to capacity with 2 million gallons thanks to abundant snowmelt, and snow remaining on the ground into March will provide even more water, says the manager of the Mount Lemmon Water District.
“We had three storms on three days in January with about 36 inches of snow,” said manager Michael Stanley. “The snow has been a major help, and I expect we’ll get more snowstorms” in the coming weeks.
The plentiful snowmelt will provide needed water for cabins, homes and businesses in the village of Summerhaven as well as a supply kept in reserve for fire fighting in the summer.
This year’s situation is in sharp contrast to some previous years such as 2012, when low winter snowpack sharply reduced spring flows and slowed creeks to a trickle.
Pamela Selby-Harmon, postmaster of the Mount Lemmon Post Office, keeps precipitation records but said it’s been difficult to accurately measure snowfall this winter. That’s because amounts have varied from one part of the mountain range to another and because some storms have produced blowing snow that accumulates unevenly.
“I would say this has been a reasonable snow year compared to the last few years, with maybe 4 or 5 feet this year,” Selby-Harmon said. Heavy snow years can bring 18 feet or more of snow.
“We’re sitting fine right now, but I hope we’re not done,” she said. “I really hope we get more snow before the true heat moves in.”
SPRINGS ARE VITAL
Stanley has noted that “we’re spring-fed” with no well sources of water available. Two spring sources near Summerhaven — one in Upper Sabino Canyon and the other in Carter Canyon — provide water for the area.
“Our springs are running at about 35 gallons (per minute), and that’s rare,” Stanley said. “It’s high for this time of year. There’s a nice creek flow, and the trees are just soaking it up.”
It’s that abundant spring flow that has helped fill the water storage tanks to their 2 million gallon capacity.
Keeping that flow rate high is one reason that Stanley and Selby-Harmon say they’re hoping for more snow before the end of winter.
“Snow is the best moisture provider because it soaks in slowly,” Stanley said. “The rains mostly run off, but the snow melts in.”
Warm, dry weather is in the forecast for the remainder of this week — offering little chance of snow in the mountains.
Forecasts call for cooler weather and a chance of precipitation Monday and Tuesday, but whether moisture in the mountains comes down as snow will depend on temperatures.