Arizona will experience another hot, dry spring as drought persists

Arizona residents hoping for a break this spring from the state’s drought will be disappointed, with climatologists calling for minor to exceptional drought conditions in what is being called the ‘new normal’ for the State.

The spring outlook released this month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted the greatest drought coverage seen in the United States since 2013, with up to 60% of the continental United States facing drought conditions.

“This prospect that NOAA is saying, that we’re going to develop or have worsening drought, it’s not surprising, it’s not unexpected,” said Erinanne Saffel, an Arizona state climatologist.

READ ALSO: As the drought persists, here’s how Phoenix is ​​preparing

As the state enters April, May and June, what Saffel calls “the driest months of the year in Arizona,” the dry conditions will affect approximately 4 million residents living in drought-affected areas in across the state, according to NOAA.

He said cities in central Arizona, including Phoenix, Tucson, Globe and Florence, would experience abnormally dry conditions characterized by dry ground and increased fire hazards. The biggest threat will be in western and northern Arizona, where severe or extreme drought conditions are expected to affect farms, forests and wildlife, and stress fire crews.

Although last year’s monsoon season was one of the wettest on record, averaging 7.93 inches of precipitation, that was not enough to reverse the lasting effects of previous dry seasons in Arizona – including the driest monsoon on record in 2020.

“We’re still in this kind of long-term situation where one or two rainy seasons is still not enough to get out of this long-term drought,” Saffel said.

Arizona has experienced drought conditions since the mid-1990s and has been under an emergency drought declaration since 1999. Experts said it was important to look beyond short-term climate forecasts. term when looking at long-term drought.

“We received precipitation that is not too far from normal or 100% of average, but runoff was significantly lower … indicating very dry soil conditions and also a warmer and drier spring, said said Tom Buschatzke, director. from the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

NOAA’s spring forecast came shortly after the Bureau of Reclamation said Lake Powell’s elevation had fallen below 3,525 feet, the lowest since it was first filled in the 1960s. drops below 3,490 feet, it won’t be able to run the Glen Canyon Dam generators that produce electricity for 5.8 million customers in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Nebraska and Arizona.

As part of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan, the Bureau of Reclamation took action twice to help sustain Lake Powell, releasing water from two reservoirs upstream and temporarily reducing monthly discharges. from Glen Canyon Dam until April.

The office said it would take no further action at this time “because the spring runoff will resolve the short-term deficit,” Wayne Pullan, Colorado’s upper basin region manager, said in a statement. prepare.

But Buschatzke does not share this optimism.

“We’ve been monitoring weather conditions for many years in terms of both what’s happening inside the state of Arizona, but also with the main reservoirs Lake Powell, Lake Mead, and what’s going on. was going into the upper watershed for” those lakes, he said. “And there has been a downward trend in terms of runoff in the Colorado River.”

While it doesn’t foresee more action now, Reclamation predicts Lake Powell will plunge again later this year, and it has a drought response operations plan in the works to help keep the water at a level to maintain the operation of the generators of the Glen Canyon Dam, if necessary.

Although the office has been able to provide some short-term solutions, Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute, says much more needs to be done to address the shortages caused. by “22 years of drought”. ”

“We entered into these incremental agreements to deal with urgent situations,” Porter said. “But we need to get to a point where we have a big long-term agreement on how much water we can expect and how much water each user can expect.”

These agreements will require cooperation among all basin states and several iterations of plans and projections in order to achieve a “reasonable level of success”, Buschatzke said.

“Mother Nature continues to teach us that things can get worse the further you look into the future,” he said. “So we must continue to add to our plans and create more robust plans to deal with the wider range ahead of us and the wider range of uncertainties about what our future holds.”

Story by Emily Sacia, Cronkite News

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