Agenda - November 16, 2016
Due to the relatively dry winter and localized summer rainfall, the end of the water year (October 31, 2016) short-term drought is worse than a year ago, in the southwestern quarter of the state, but better than a year ago, in the northwestern quarter. In addition, there were no long-term improvements in drought conditions within any of the watersheds in Arizona, and three watersheds that were not in drought became abnormally dry.
Reservoirs for the Salt and Verde Watersheds continue to hover around 50% of capacity and the additional groundwater pumped during the drought has not been recharged. Additionally, moisture deficit is not currently increasing, but it has not recovered from the drought, so long-term conditions are still poor. Due to such conditions, every county, besides Coconino, had a United States Department of Agriculture disaster designation due to the impacts of drought this water year.
The Colorado River Basin System is experiencing a 17-year drought, which is the driest period in historical record dating back to 1906. In June 2016, Lake Mead levels dropped to 1,071 feet, which is below the first shortage trigger, set at 1,075 feet. Due to water conservation efforts by multiple entities, water levels increased in October, 2016, to 1,076 feet, right above the shortage trigger, and Reclamation’s projection of a Lower Colorado River Basin shortage in 2017 decreased from 37% to 0%. However, the chance of a shortage declaration in 2018 is still very likely and hovers at 48%. As of November 1, 2016, the entire System’s reservoir capacity was at 50%.
As a response to the long-term drought conditions on the Colorado River Basin and the looming shortages for the Lower Basin states, representatives of the three states and Reclamation developed a Drought Contingency Proposal (DCP) in December 2015 to conserve water levels in lake mead. Under the DCP, Arizona and Nevada would begin reducing water deliveries earlier than previously agreed. Reclamation would also agree to conserve water in the system. Additionally, California would agree for the first time to reduce its deliveries when Lake Mead elevations are below 1050 feet.
2016 wildfire season in was very like what was expected based on a ten-year average; Arizona experienced higher number of fires (2,197) than the 10-year average (2,144), however current acres burned (303,057) are lower than the 10-year average (317,781). Looking ahead to 2017, the state still experiences similar wildfires hazards: continuation of drought, fine fuel conditions, highly variable seasonal temperatures and low precipitation. These conditions suggest a similar wildfire season for 2017. However, the threat of catastrophic wildfire remains and Arizonans are urged to exercise extreme caution.
The most likely weather outcome for this winter is weak La Niña conditions developing during the late fall and early winter (around a 70% chance) and becoming neutral in late winter. Odds are shifted towards a warmer and drier than normal winter based on a combination of La Niña, model output, and trends over the past 10-15 years. The Climate Prediction Center’s outlook for July-September 2017 shows somewhat better chances that the average temperature during these three months will be above normal statewide, but there is no precipitation signal.
Based on this information, the ICG unanimously recommended that both drought declarations be kept in place:
- Drought Emergency Declaration (PCA 99006) has been in effect since June 1999 and maintains the state’s ability to provide emergency response if needed. It also enables farmers and ranchers to obtain funding assistance through the Farm Service Agency if they experience production losses due to drought.
- The Drought Declaration for the State of Arizona (Executive Order 2007-10) was issued in May 2007 to raise awareness of Arizona’s continuing long-term drought and encourage conservation.
Fall 2016 Drought ICG Recommendation Letter to the Governor