Arizona drought: New data shows improvement, SRP reports good snowpack levels

Recent data from the U.S. Drought Monitor show there's improving drought conditions across Arizona, with a drought map showing about three-fourths of the state are not in drought conditions, and a very minor area of severe drought.

The map compares favorably from a similar map in 2022, where much of the state with classified as abnormally dry or in a moderate drought.

While the latest data is trending in the right direction, it does not mean Arizona is close to ending a long-term drought, as the Drought Monitor does not measure how much water is in reservoirs.

In addition, while snowpack is above normal at the moment, it is still not enough to refill the Colorado River system.

"We're about 128% of water equivalent or snowpack, and the runoff projection is about 108% of normal," read Tom Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. "It's not indicative of what's in the reservoirs, and not indicative of whether the groundwater that we pump has been replenished."

Also, not all snow will melt and turn into runoff, as some of the snow will evaporate over time.

"That snow, when it melts, can seep into the ground, depending on the time of the year, [and] can be sucked up by vegetation," said Buschatzke. "In the last several years, we've seen reasonably good snowpack, and we've seen runoff varying from 30% to 60%, roughly."

Buschatzke said it would take at least five to 10 consecutive years of above-normal snowpack, as well as more water conservation efforts, to completely refill Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

SRP sounds positive note on reservoir levels

According to SRP officials, their water supply is 80% full as of Feb. 17.

SRP's reservoir system is completely separate from the Colorado River system, where water level is alarmingly low.

Officials with the organization said one of their two watersheds has already received 230% more snow than usual. 

"The Salt and the Verde, combined, there’s 1.1 million acre feet of snow sitting up there right now," said Bo Svoma, SRP's Senior Meteorologist. "An acre foot is like a football field area."

The snowpack usually begins to melt around February.

Meanwhile, Apache, Canyon, and Saguaro Lakes are over 90% full.

"When the snow melts on the Salt, it’s going to fill up Roosevelt Lake substantially," said Svoma. "When the snow melts on the Verde, it’s going to fill up the Verde reservoir systems for sure."

The Verde River feeds into Bartlett Lake, which is 85% full. SRP officials say they are planning to build up Bartlett Dam, raising it higher to store more runoff.

"97-foot raise was one of the alternatives recommended from the appraisal study, and that would be a new water supply when it fills up during wet winters like these," said Svoma.

In the Phoenix area, the cities of Phoenix and Tempe get over half of their water supply from SRP's reservoirs. Meanwhile, many other cities in the area get a portion of their water from SRP, in addition to the Colorado River.

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