The State Drought Monitoring Technical Committee’s annual update showed that there was a significant improvement in long-term drought conditions compared to a year ago. Most of the improvement is due to the wet winter, however, the 2010 summer was also wetter than average in most of Arizona’s watersheds. Currently four watersheds have no drought, six watersheds are abnormally dry, and five watersheds are in moderate drought.
Precipitation forecasts for Arizona for the upcoming winter and spring seasons are bleak with a strong La Nina event underway in the Pacific Ocean. La Nina will likely result in increased probabilities for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation. Widespread moderate to severe drought conditions may develop by later this spring.
The Arizona State Forestry Division and Arizona Game and Fish Department provided their annual updates on forest health and impacts to wildlife. The University of Arizona also presented on drought impacts reported through Arizona DroughtWatch, a drought impact reporting system developed by the University, in conjunction with ADWR. The reports showed the following:
- Many parts of the state are still suffering from long-term precipitation deficits that affect vegetation health and water supplies.
- Wildlife habitat is still in poor condition after many years of drought.
- Concern for next spring is the potential for bark beetles to infest the forests damaged from the tornados in northern Arizona, and kill surrounding standing ponderosa pines, followed by fires once all the material has dried out. More on forest health conditions.
Based on this information, the ICG made a unanimous decision to recommend that both drought declarations be kept in place.
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, and the State Drought Monitoring Technical Committee on climate conditions. A few of the main points are described below and form the basis of the ICG’s recommendation:
- Although the Verde and Salt reservoir systems are full, the Colorado reservoir system, which provides 40% of Arizona’s water supply, is still well below its average level.
- Data show normal to severe long-term drought conditions across the state.
- Precipitation totals have been below normal:
o In the Salt Watershed - 9 of the past 17 years
o In the Little Colorado Watershed - 12 of the past 17 years
o In the Santa Cruz Watershed - 12 of the past 17 years
o In the Upper Gila Watershed - 10 of the past 14 years
- Although this winter was wetter than average, long-term drought status, in comparison to last year, is worse for most of Arizona’s watersheds due to below average precipitation over the last four years.
The updates confirmed that although winter precipitation was above average, all of Arizona’s watersheds except the Lower Gila 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.