Being Prepared for Limited Rain and Snow

Published Feb 08, 2021

The first notable winter storms brought much-needed moisture across the State, providing a short-term boost to our vegetation and adding some water to local reservoirs. While precipitation in our arid climate is always welcome, the reality is it will take more than a few storms to significantly impact our drought conditions.

When we look at the big picture, this winter's rain and snow cannot erase multiple dry years. Research shows that drought cycles and wet cycles in Arizona run 20 to 30 years, and the current record-breaking drought cycle began around 1996. It will take a few years of more than average rain and snow to positively impact the unfavorable circumstances left by the current drought.

The AMWUA cities understand this cycle and the circumstances of living in an arid climate. In other words, they prepare for drought. They have made significant investments in their infrastructure and have built a diverse water supplies portfolio to ensure continued water delivery to their residents and businesses.

By having multiple water sources, the cities are better prepared for the long-term and any short-term challenges. Our communities and economies' well-being depends on water reliability, especially when living in a desert where periods of prolonged drought are the norm.

Although each city's portfolio may slightly differ from that of their neighbor's, most utilize the following water sources:

Salt River and Verde Rivers

  • The Salt River Project (SRP) delivers water captured behind dams on the Salt and Verde Rivers, supplemented by groundwater, through 131 miles of canals.
  • AMWUA cities use Salt and Verde River water to meet 41 percent of their collective demand.
  • Rain and snow that fall in the watershed north of the Valley are vital to the health of this water supply. The Watershed Connection shows current elevations of the reservoirs it manages, including Roosevelt, Canyon, and Bartlett lakes, and daily rain and snowmelt runoff compared to typical averages.
  • Recent research shows the water supply from the Salt and Verde Watershed to be very resilient to the worst known droughts, even in the tree ring record, as well as climate change forecasts.

Learn more about the Salt River Project HERE

Colorado River Water

  • AMWUA cities use Colorado River water to meet 45 percent of their collective demand.
  • Water from the Colorado River is delivered by the Central Arizona Project (CAP). The 336-mile-long CAP canal brings that water into the Valley and Tucson area.
  • Most AMWUA members are still growing into their Colorado River allocations and are storing what is not used for times of shortage.
  • Precipitation that flows from the Rockies is vital to the Colorado River system. With runoff levels low, the Colorado River has experienced severe drought conditions for almost two decades. That is why the AMWUA cities closely monitor the Colorado River's status and plan for reductions in this water. 

Learn more about the Central Arizona Project HERE


  • The AMWUA cities rely on naturally occurring groundwater for only five percent of their needs.
  • The aquifers which contain groundwater beneath our feet are vital to our way of life. They supply a portion of the water we use, and they act as underground reservoirs to buffer against reduced water deliveries from SRP or CAP.
  • There is a significant amount of naturally occurring groundwater beneath our feet. This water is the ultimate back-up.
  • Groundwater is a finite supply, not a renewable resource. This is why the AMWUA cities understand the importance of protecting the 1980 Groundwater Management Act. 

Learn more about groundwater HERE

Recycled Water

  • AMWUA cities use recycled water, also called reclaimed water or effluent, to meet nine percent of their collective demand.
  • Recycled water is a drought-proof, renewable supply that is available whenever we use water.
  • AMWUA cities collectively put over 90 percent of their effluent to beneficial use, but not all of it is used within their service territories. For example, five AMWUA members deliver effluent to the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station for cooling purposes.

Learn more about recycled water HERE

Our communities have been developed with a keen awareness of the need to plan for extended dry periods, to capture and store all the water we can, and to manage it as efficiently as possible to stretch those supplies. Significant challenges may come as drought continues to stress some of our water supplies, but we are prepared thanks to sound water management. Investing in multiple sources of supply has played a critical part in the cities' long-term planning and our collective sustainability here in the desert. Yet some rain here and there definitely helps too.

For over 50 years, the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has helped protect our member cities' ability to provide assured, safe, and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more information, visit .