Arizona Drought Planning

Drought in Arizona - Background

Drought is a weather-related phenomenon that can occur in virtually all climatic zones, and specifically in arid locations. Due to the arid conditions and low precipitation patterns across most parts of the state, Arizona is susceptible to drought and can be significantly affected by it.

Arizona has experienced three severe and sustained droughts during the 20th Century: one that started in the early 1900’s, another one during the 1950’s and the current drought, which has started mid to late 1990’s and is still prevailing today. Recognizing that drought is a natural occurrence that has the potential to negatively affect humans, animals and the environment, Arizona has been actively planning for and addressing drought conditions and impacts.

Several years into the current drought, a Governor’s Drought Task Force was created in 2003 to establish a flexible framework to refine Arizona’s drought monitoring process, improve understanding of drought impacts and identify mechanisms for limiting future vulnerability to drought. Through this process, the 2004 Arizona Drought Preparedness Plan was developed and adopted in 2005. The Plan identified new drought working committees and established new water-use reporting requirements for all water providers around the State. All related drought activities and efforts are summarized on a yearly basis in the Arizona Drought Preparedness Annual Reports.

Drought Working Committees

Arizona Drought Monitoring Technical Committee (MTC): responsible for gathering drought, climate, and weather data, and disseminating that information to resource managers, state decision-makers and the public. Specifically, the MTC prepares the short and long-term drought status reports, briefs the ICG on drought conditions, and provides assistance to Local Drought Impact Groups (LDIGs).

Arizona Drought Interagency Coordinating Group (ICG): advises the Governor on drought status, impacts, and any necessary preparedness and response actions. The ICG has met biannually since 2006, and the meetings include a review of statewide monitoring efforts and drought status, water supply updates, rangeland conditions, forest health, and the impacts of drought on wildlife.

Local Drought Impact Groups (LDIGs): participate in drought monitoring and reporting, education and local mitigation, mainly through cooperative extension and county emergency management programs.

Water Use Reporting Requirements

The most urgent need for drought planning is in the rural parts of the state, where alternative water supplies are generally very limited and the economy is strongly affected by drought (e.g., grazing, recreation, tourism, and forestry). Most of rural Arizona relies exclusively on groundwater as its primary water source and lacks the groundwater regulations and conservation requirements which have been present in the state’s active management areas (AMAs) and irrigation non-expansion areas (INAs) since 1980. This need lead to the establishment of new water use requirements for all community water systems across the state, not only those located in AMAs and INAs:

Annual Water Use Report: helps water providers evaluate their system’s efficiency and plan for future needs by providing information on water pumped or diverted, water received, and water delivered to customers.

System Water Plan: helps water providers reduce their drought vulnerability and plan for future water shortages by including a water supply plan, a water conservation plan and a drought plan. The drought plan asks water systems to describe their drought stages and triggers, emergency sources of water, customer communication strategies, and other planning actions.

Both the Water Use Report and System Water Plan provide a means for the state to gather water-use data to use in its planning efforts. To read more about these requirements, visit the Community Water Systems webpage.

Colorado River Basin Drought Planning

The Colorado River system, which provides Arizona with about 40 percent of its water supply, has experienced severe drought conditions since 2000. As a result, water levels in Lake Mead, the primary storage reservoir for the Lower Basin states - Arizona, California and Nevada – as well as the entire Colorado River System of reservoirs have been declining, and projections indicate that this will continue into the foreseeable future.

To avoid, or at least delay, future shortages to Arizona water supply, ADWR in collaboration with other Colorado River water users are taking a variety of actions to protect the Colorado River system and Lake Mead’s elevation from dropping to critical levels. To read more about ADWR’s drought planning for the Colorado River, visit the ADWR Colorado River webpage.

Planning for Water Supply Sustainability

Planning for water supply sustainability continues to be a priority for both urban and rural areas of the state. ADWR’s 2014 “Strategic Vision for Water Supply Sustainability” (Vision) provides a comprehensive water supply and demand analysis for Arizona and creates the framework for addressing future water supply challenges.

To address the challenges identified in the Vision and to further Arizona drought planning, the Arizona Water Initiative (Initiative) was introduced by Governor Ducey in Oct. 2015. The initiative involved two tracks:

Governor’s Water Augmentation Council: investigates the long-term augmentation strategies for the State, explores additional water conservation opportunities, identifies infrastructure needs and reports policy direction or statutory changes to take Arizona into the future.

Planning Areas Process: by prioritizing the 22 planning areas identified in the Vision, ADWR is working with local stakeholders to refine the issues causing supply-demand imbalances, identify strategies likely to be successful and work to establish stakeholder-driven solutions in each area.