U.S. Water News Online
PHOENIX -- A murky cloud of sludge and ash billows about a
half-mile into Roosevelt Lake, the reservoir that provides a
significant amount of the Phoenix area's drinking water.
``It looks like coffee with a little bit of cream in it,'' said
Joe Janisch, a spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department,
one of several agencies monitoring the lake.
There are still about four-and-a-half miles of olive-green-colored
lake untainted by the ash and soil draining into the Salt River from
the burn area of the largest fire in state history. Roosevelt lake is
the product of a dam on the Salt River, which starts in the White
Mountains where the Rodeo-Chediski fire burned nearly 469,000 acres.
While officials said the drinking water and the ample wildlife in
the area haven't been affected yet, they continue testing the water
regularly to see how much harm a river choked with ash might do.
``You've got a bunch of things converging at once on Roosevelt,''
said Jeff Humphrey, a spokesman with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service. ``You've got a severe drought, you've got wildlife, you've
got man's insertion into nature with dams and fire. And they've all
just come together at this point in time and in this place.''
The ash probably won't affect the Phoenix area's water supply,
said Paul Cherrington, the water engineering manager for the Salt
River Project, which operates several dams along the Salt River.
By the time water travels through the chain of reservoirs to
Phoenix, about 50 miles away, it has shed most of its impurities, he
said. It's then filtered and treated at municipal water processing
The fish and animals in and around the lake could be in trouble,
A huge load of ash and other nutrients sucked into the lake from
the charred land to the north could strangle the lake of oxygen,
killing fish by the thousands, officials said.
``All this ash, together with a lot of sunshine and warm
temperatures, causes a plankton bloom -- essentially an out of
control algae growth,'' said Humphrey. ``That creates reduced oxygen
content. ... Everything goes bust in the lake.''
Officials also worry that too much rain this winter, the possible
result of El Nino weather, could destroy the habitat of the
endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher.
For seven years, as drought drained the lake of water, it also
exposed nutrient-rich deltas, forming a perfect habitat for the
small, gray bird to nest and breed.
The delta area is now the bird's most popular breeding spot,
providing about 750 acres of new habitat, complete with salt cedars,
willows and cottonwood trees that have grown tall and thick, Humphrey
Federal laws require SRP to provide an alternative nesting area
for the flycatcher before the lake fills. SRP recently released a
plan to acquire 1,500 acres of land around the lake and to protect
and manage the land for the bird.
Meanwhile, Forest Service workers race to spread seeds on the
earth burned by the White Mountain wildfire, trying to get a layer of
vegetation that can stop eroded soil from flowing into the Salt River
during rain storms.
Janisch said mild, infrequent storms that give just enough
moisture to nourish the new grasses growing in the area burned by the
fire, would be a big help.
``If we get a huge downpour, it could be very interesting for''
the wildlife in and around the lake, he said. ``It could go either
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