Despite winter snow, Arizona still mired in severe drought conditions

Arizona has had a nice stretch of snowfall this winter, but now, the big question is whether the meltwater will make an impact on the state's severe drought.

Currently, data shows 85% of Arizona is in an extreme to exceptional drought.

The Grand Canyon State gets most of its inflow into reservoirs during the winter, which a lot of that is snow. Those reservoirs hold drinking water supply that gets delivered to the Valley.

"Snowpack is one of the sources of water into our reservoirs at SRP, and really, we get most of our inflow into our reservoirs during the winter, which a lot of that is snow," said SRP Senior Hydrologist Andrew Volkmer.

A team of hydrologists at SRP head out every two weeks during the winter months to measure the snow and especially during an active winter.

"We really use these snow surveys, snow drives, and snow flights to get an idea of what the conditions are in the watershed, so we can responsibly manage our reservoir system, make strong seasonal streamflow forecasts to allow us to operate the system," said Volkmer.

For 2021, both the Verde River watershed and the Salt River watershed remain below normal.

"As of right now, on the Salt side of the system, we’re about 33% of our typical snowpack, and on the Verde side of the system, we are about 70% of our typical snowpack," said Volkmer.

While this year has not been too active, Volkmer says three of the past five years have seen above-normal snowpack levels, which is water they’ve been able to store.

In addition, every year going into the runoff season, the team plans as if the state is heading into a long-term drought.

"We use surface water and groundwater to fulfill our deliveries," said Volkmer. "Typically, when we have our reservoirs draw down more in times of drought, we increase the amount of groundwater that we use, and when we start to fill the reservoirs back up, we use that storage and reservoirs levels to increase our surface water deliveries, and decrease our groundwater deliveries."

Volkmer says reservoirs are at 77% capacity. Meanwhile, he is reminding residents to be water conscious.

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