The Monitoring Technical Committee’s annual update indicated that the overall condition for the 2011 water year is moderate drought, with significant degradation from a year ago both in northern Arizona and the southeastern watersheds. Cumulative precipitation was below normal in all of the state’s major river basins, ranging from 65 to 95 percent of the 30-year average. Winter snowpack was well below normal and summer precipitation was very localized. Streamflow decreased in 14 of the 26 basins and stayed the same in 12 basins. The outlook for the 2012 water year indicates that La Niña conditions will emerge again this coming winter favoring a drier than normal winter and a warmer than normal spring. This will likely result in worsening drought conditions.
Reports by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Arizona State Forestry Division and Arizona Game and Fish Department showed that many parts of the state are still suffering from long-term precipitation deficits that affect vegetation health and water supplies as described below:
- The average forage production across Arizona was approximately 56 percent of normal, and the outlook for 2012 is 57 percent of normal or less.
- Wildfires had the largest impact on forest health in 2011, with more than 1,000,000 acres burned. Bark beetles did not present a problem as anticipated, possibly due to a few cold snaps in spring.
- Livestock water shortages occurred throughout the state, and in many cases livestock operators relied on water hauling or reductions in herds.
- Several NRCS field offices reported irrigation water shortages and expected crop production losses ranging from 10 to 90 percent, with serious impacts in the northeastern part of the state where dry-farming practices are prevalent.
- Wildlife habitat is still in poor condition after many years of drought, resulting in diminished wildlife populations.
Based on this information, the ICG made a unanimous decision to recommend 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.
The following reports were provided by the Salt River Project (SRP) on the Salt and Verde watersheds, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) on the Colorado River Basin, the State Drought Monitoring Technical Committee on climate condition, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service on livestock water and forage conditions. A few of the main points are described below:
- Although the Verde and Salt reservoir systems are currently 86% full and increases in the Colorado River reservoirs will forestall drought-related water rationing in Arizona until 2015 or later, data show that much of the state remains in drought conditions.
- Normal to extreme long-term drought conditions occur across the state, with the driest conditions in the southeastern part of the state. Only Mohave County and the western edge of La Paz County are characterized as not experiencing drought at this time.
- Of the previous four years, only 2010 was a wetter than average year and did not reverse the effects of the previous dry years. In fact, long-term drought status is worse for most watersheds.
- According to the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) Field Offices, less than 64% of normal forage production will occur in 2011. They also reported shortages in livestock water around the state and irrigation water shortages that could result in crop production losses ranging from 10 to 80 percent. In addition to poor rangeland conditions, native desert vegetation also exhibits signs of stress, especially in the western and southern counties.
The updates confirmed that although reservoirs supplying western and central Arizona are adequate, all of Arizona’s watersheds except the Lower Gila and Lower Colorado remain in long-term drought. Based on this information, the ICG made a unanimous decision to recommend that both drought declarations be kept in place.