Cluff Pond reopening delayed 

Jon Johnson Gila Herald: Cluff Pond #3 has only a little rain runoff in it and there is no timetable for its reopening. Game & Fish said it is still waiting on a valve to be able to fill the pond from Ash Creek.

Insufficient Monsoon rain and lack of permanent valve for Ash Creek lead to a dry pond

By Jon Johnson

CLUFF POND #3 – Back on April 27 of this year, I ran a report in the Gila Herald stating that according to Cluff Ranch Wildlife Area Manager Matt Pelto, after two years of refurbishment, Cluff Pond #3 was set to begin being refilled on April 28. 

According to the Arizona Game & Fish Department, the pond would be restocked with sport fish while the pond was being refilled as quickly as the water quality allowed. At that time, the Game & Fish Department anticipated the pond reopening to the public in late summer/early fall of 2023. 

So, I went back out to visit the area on Oct. 3, 2023, and lo and behold the gate was still locked. After a short hike down the road, I came upon the pond and it appeared to be nothing more than a cattle watering hole. 

According to Arizona Game & Fish Department spokesman Mark Hart, there is currently no reopening date and the pond has only about three feet of water in a small area that mostly came from rain runoff. 

Jon Johnson Video/Gila Herald

Hart said the project is still waiting on the delivery of a permanent replacement valve to fill the pond. He said the first valve allowed a brief diversion from Ash Creek but it was discovered to be faulty when installed in April and the inflow was halted. Precipitation from the Monsoon season wasn’t enough to fill the pond, and Hart said the permanent valve is critical to the completion of the project. He also described the project as being important for public safety as well as recreation, and that when completed the project will not only enhance the area but will make it safer and attract wildlife. 

“In addition to allowing Pond #3 to (be) refilled for outdoor recreation, it will also help protect public safety by preventing flooding,” Hart said. “It will also enable filling Pond #1 once regulatory reviews are completed, which will further expand the recreational opportunities available at Cluff Ranch.” 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: There is no current timetable for when fishing will return to Cluff Pond #3.

However, when that will occur is still up in the air as the delivery of the permanent valve is still to be determined, according to Hart.

In addition to being the center of fishing and recreation in the area, Pond #3 is also the initial reservoir that supplies water to Pond #1 and the remainder of wildlife wetland areas and ponds in the area.

However, over the years, the valve to let water out of Pond #3 stopped functioning. That, coupled with diminished water from Pond #3’s source, Ash Creek, contributed to the ponds going dry.

Recent history of Cluff Pond #3

File Photo By Diane Drobka: The pond as shown in 2020.

Arizona Game & Fish has been working on the area since the Frye Fire in the summer of 2017 burned the  Ash Creek drainage and subsequent floods damaged the water delivery system. While the drainage was repaired over the next few years, a temporary diversion in Ash Creek lower down the creek was utilized, but the water volume was less than previously.

Then the drought of 2020 stopped the water flow of Ash Creek and caused Pond #3 to drop very low. At that point, the decision was made to drain the pond and replace the valve, according to Pelto. Unfortunately, when the draining began, workers found sediment had accumulated to the point where it buried the valve. Dredging was proposed as the solution, but that forced an additional round of environmental assessments. 

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Cluff Pond as shown on April 27, 2023.

The dredging work was completed in the spring of 2022 and additional earthen structures were created to improve the aquatic habitat, according to Game & Fish. Additionally, a large dirt pad was made northwest of the pond to become future campsites.   

A replacement valve first arrived in July 2022, but it was found to be missing a piece that needed to be custom-made and took an additional 20 weeks to be created and arrive. 

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: New aquatic habitat structures in the pond await water and fish.

While waiting for the valve, workers installed new aquatic habitat structures in the pond, and an extensive cleanup was completed. Additionally, 760 feet of the pipeline that delivers water to Pond #3 from Ash Creek was replaced and the temporary diversion was rebuilt, making Pond #3’s water delivery system functional again.

Arizona Game & Fish reportedly does not have a current timetable as to when Cluff Pond #3 will reopen.