Floods of October 1977 in southern Arizona and March 1978 in central Arizona

Water Supply Paper 2223




Major floods occurred in October 1977 and March 1978 in Arizona. As much as 14 inches of rain fell during October 6-9, 1977, over the mountains of southern Arizona and northern Mexico resulting in the highest discharge since at least 1892 on the Santa Cruz River upstream from Tucson. The flood inundated areas as much as 4 miles wide, covered at least 16,000 acres of farmland, and caused $15.2 million in damage. Residential losses occurred at Nogales, Amado, Green Valley, and Sahuarita. Severe erosional damage occurred along the Santa Cruz River, Agua Fria Canyon, Potrero Creek, and many small drainages in the Sonoita Creek basin. The peak discharge in Agua Fria Canyon was the highest since before 1900. Less severe flooding occurred along the San Pedro River and the Gila River downstream from the San Pedro. Widespread rainfall of 3 to 6 inches and 9 to 14 inches in some areas in the central mountains during February 27 to March 3, 1978, caused the highest discharge since 1920 on the Salt River in Phoenix and resulted in three deaths. Flooding along the Salt and Gila Rivers and several lesser streams caused statewide damage totaling $65.9 million, of which about $37 million occurred in Maricopa County. Nine counties were declared disaster areas. During the flood of March 1978, moderate peak discharges and unusually high volumes of runoff occurred on tributaries to the Salt and Verde Rivers upstream from a system of reservoirs. Flood magnitudes were greater at the main-stem gaging stations than on the tributaries. The peak discharge into Theodore Roosevelt Lake, which was 21 percent full at the start of the flood, was about 155,000 cubic feet per second, the largest known from 1890 to 1978. The reservoirs stored large quantities of water and greatly reduced the magnitude of the flood. The peak discharge of the Salt River was 125,000 cubic feet per second below Granite Reef Dam and 122,000 cubic feet per second at Phoenix. Discharges in excess of 100,000 cubic feet per second occurred for 8 hours. Without the storage provided by the reservoirs, the peak discharge on the Salt River would have been 260,000 cubic feet per second, and the discharge would have exceeded 100,000 cubic feet per second for 66 hours. The Verde River was the principal flood source, but flows at the upstream gaging stations did not indicate the magnitude of the impending flood at Horseshoe Reservoir because large inflow from tributaries immediately upstream from the reservoir caused the river to rise at downstream stations before it rose at upstream stations. About 17 percent of the water entering the reach from Granite Reef Dam to Gillespie Dam went to recharge, temporary ground-water storage, or evapotranspiration losses. All water was stored at Painted Rock Reservoir and released at a low rate that prevented water from reaching the Gila River near Mohawk gaging station.

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USGS Numbered Series
Floods of October 1977 in southern Arizona and March 1978 in central Arizona
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Water Supply Paper
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U.S. G.P.O.,
v, 143 p. :ill., maps ;28 cm.; 6 plates in pockets