The Southwest drought is definitely lessening. However, the area needs a few more years of precipitation like in the past few months to get back to anything near normal. The current conditions are indeed wet where it needs to be wet, yet will not be enough to stop a Lake Mead Drought Declaration. Southwest Colorado, which is crucial to water for the Southwest and southern California, is still in drought but not nearly as severe as just a few months ago. California is almost completely out of drought with some areas at 150% of normal now. However, problems remain.
If Lake Mead drops below a certain level, automatic shortages are mandated. The degree and amounts of those shortages can be worked out by the various states involved by March 19 or the feds will do it for them. The current disagreements are in 1) Arizona, between ranchers and Native Americans. The tribe says they have claim to water rights that expired because the previous water rights holder didn’t use them. If so, then the ranchers would get less water. 2) California, the Imperial Irrigation District wants $200 million in outside money to save the Salton Sea. If the sea dries up, toxic clouds of dust will blow everywhere. Yes, it’s kind of apocalyptic.
Cities like Vegas, Tucson, and Phoenix have made huge advances in cutting water usage and will continue to do so. They all use less water than twenty years ago despite having many more people. Vegas has been toilet-to-tap for years. Phoenix recycles all waste water and says if it has to, it could survive without Colorado River water.
“We’ve decoupled growth from water,” she said. “We use the same amount of water that we did 20 years ago, but have added 400,000 more people.” In 2000, Some 80 percent of Phoenix had lush green lawns; now only 14 percent does. The city has done this by charging more for water in the summer. Per capita usage has declined 30 percent over the last 20 years. “That’s a huge culture change”
Selover is the Arizona state climatologist. She is interviewed by Brodie.
BRODIE: On a philosophical level, you know, we’ve just gone through all this debate at the state Capitol over the Drought Contingency Plan. We’ve heard so much about how it’s likely that a drought declaration or a shortage declaration is going to be declared next year in Lake Mead. When you have a storm system like this, is it hard to remind people that, hey, Arizona is still in a drought when they see record breaking snowfall in Flagstaff, snow in the Phoenix area, lots of rain in the Phoenix area over a couple of days?
SELOVER: Yes, it is. The moment we get this kind of precipitation, everyone thinks that the drought’s over. It’s very much not. For things like Lake Mead and the drought declaration, that’s kind of dependent on the Colorado snow. So what’s going on up there. Which they’ve also had quite a bit. And that’s good. Part of the issue though, is that the drought declaration tends to be something that the Bureau of Reclamation will do as a forecast, and they do that well ahead of tim. So even if we have a really good snow year this year, they will probably still declare a shortage, because of the mechanics of the way the system works. But Lake Mead is very low. I mean, we’re at 40 to 50 percent of capacity, and we need to try and get it back up into the 80 to 90 percent range. And that’s going to take a number of really wet years.