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Securing Arizona's Water Future

 

Governor's Drought Interagency Coordinating Group

The Interagency Coordinating Group (ICG) is an advisory body to the governor on Arizona drought issues. Comprised of state, federal and non-governmental organizations, this group meets twice a year to evaluate drought conditions and consider recommendations to the governor. The Drought Emergency Declaration (PCA 99006) has been in effect since June 1999 and the Drought Declaration for the State of Arizona (Executive Order 2007-10) has been in effect since May 2007. The November 16, 2016 letter to the Governor recommends that both declarations be kept in place.

   The next ICG meeting will be in November, 2017

May 2017 Meeting

Agenda - May 9, 2017

Meeting Summary

Drought status

This winter was considerably wetter across Arizona and throughout the Colorado River Basin than the previous five winters. Early winter storms in November and December combined with later storms in January and February brought significant rain and snow to northern and central Arizona. As a result, long-term drought and water supply conditions in northern Arizona are much better than they were over the past six to ten years. Southern Arizona had benefitted from a wet monsoon but missed out on the winter storm activity, leading to drought status degradation in the southeast part of the state. This winter, though relatively wet, was still not as wet as in late 1980s and early 1990s, before this drought began. While beneficial in the short-term, particularly for surface water supplies, the cumulative deficits to groundwater aquifers have not been alleviated. The drought status maps show much of the state is still abnormally dry and even the areas depicted as no drought have lost significant groundwater resources over the past two decades. Drought conditions are likely to worsen during the next few months, until the monsoon season starts.

Weather Outlook

Very weak La Niña conditions existed during fall 2016 and deteriorated through the winter, having little effect on winter’s temperatures and precipitation. Climate models suggest a 50% chance of El Niño conditions developing by late summer and fall, but these may not develop until September, which in this case will not influence Arizona’s Monsoon season. Sea surface temperatures are currently much warmer than average and could conceivably support more tropical systems and better moisture surges into southern Arizona this summer, especially if El-Niño conditions develop. The official Climate Prediction Center’s summer outlook predicts much better odds for above normal temperatures, continuing the trend of the past ten years of which eight were hotter than average (and the remaining two were near average). Arizona has not experienced a cooler than average summer since 1999. There are equal chances for above, below, or near average precipitation this upcoming summer.

Colorado River – Water Supply Status

The entire Colorado River Basin experienced a relatively wet winter, but these gains have weakened due to a warmer and drier than average spring. The great snowpack accumulated in the Upper Basin during this winter, almost surpassed snowpack conditions in 2011 - the wettest year since this Basin-wide drought began in 2000. This snow, however, is rapidly melting due to the warmer and drier conditions that started in early March. Lower Basin intervening inflows between Lake Powell and Lake Mead are higher than normal, averaging at about 130%, which is 227,000 acre feet above average or 3 ft. of additional elevation in Lake Mead.

Total system capacity on the Colorado River Basin remines at around 51%, similar to last year, with elevations in Lake Mead improving from 1,076 ft. in November 2016 to about 1,085 ft. in early May 2017. Besides wetter conditions that increased flows to the River, rigorous water conservation efforts across the Basin helped keep additional 8 ft. of water elevation in the Lake. Bureau of Reclamation’s April 2017 24-Month Study projections for Mead’s elevations at the end of 2018 range from 1,075 to 1,132 ft., with the most probable elevations of 1,102 ft. Probabilities for Lower Colorado River Basin shortage have drastically decreased since last year from 48% to almost 0% chance of Tier1 shortage in 2018. However, over 30% chance of shortage still exists for 2019, and thus conservation efforts within Arizona and across the Basin should and will continue in order to keep more water in the Lake and reduce shortage probabilities even further.

Salt River & Verde River Watersheds – Water Supply Status

This is the first wet winter after six dry years on the Salt River and Verde River watersheds, improving reservoirs’ storage from 44% before winter to 76% after winter, which is roughly one million acre feet of additional storage. This year’s inflows are above median for the first time in seven years and have almost tripled compared to past few years. This winter storms seemed to have favored the Verde system, and its small reservoirs have filled beyond capacity resulting in over 100,000 acre feet of spill. On the Salt River system, however, conditions were not as favorable as on the Verde, and Roosevelt Lake - the largest reservoir on the Salt - did not fill to capacity, and as of May 8, 2017, held about 71% of storage.

Wildfire Outlook

Winter precipitation lead to substantial vegetation growth that have already dried out in lower elevations due to higher than average spring temperatures. Because of these conditions, higher than normal wildfire incidents are expected in lower elevations with larger acreage consumed by these fires. This year’s wildfire season has already started with significant wildfires – Sawmill and Mulberry fires – burning in southern Arizona, which spread very quickly due to windy conditions, but soil moisture helped preventing more severe damage to infrastructure and surrounding environments. Mid-elevation wildfire activity will depend on precipitation and wind conditions during the upcoming months. Higher elevations, containing most of Arizona’s forested landscape, are in much better shape due to the above normal precipitation received, which translates to a ‘normal’ wildfire danger in these areas; wildfire threat still exists, but those fires will be more manageable than some of the devastating fires experienced in high elevations in the past several years. Fire outlook suggests that Arizona will have an active wildfire season, but predicted early monsoon storms will help mitigate fire outcomes, though these often lead to higher incidents of lightnings, which in turn increase wildfire risk.

Recommendation

The updates confirmed that Arizona remains in a long-term drought, even after this relatively wet winter, and the drought is expected to continue. The Drought Interagency Coordinating Group unanimously recommends that both drought declarations be kept in place.

Webinar

May 2017 Recomendation Letter to the Governor

 

 

Interagency Coordinating Group Fact Sheet

Interagency Coordinating Group Membership

Arizona Drought Assistance Matrix

Previous Meetings

 

Disaster Designations

A disaster designation by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture makes farmers and ranchers in both primary and contiguous disaster areas eligible to be considered for federal low-interest emergency loans and other forms of assistance. For a list of current counties with disaster designations, visit the USDA Farm Service Agency website. For information about the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, contact the county Farm Service Agency offices or the Arizona State Farm Service Agency.


 
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