The limited benefits of our monsoon season
By AMWUA Staff
As the monsoon season wraps up, we can celebrate that many areas across the state received essential moisture, providing short-term relief to our environment and increasing the amount of water in local reservoirs.
This active monsoon season has particularly benefited the Salt and Verde Rivers system, an important water source for the ten AMWUA cities. The summer precipitation has added water to the SRP reservoirs. However, it will still take more than one positive monsoon season to have a long-term impact on Arizona’s long-standing drought.
Our other major water supply comes from Lake Mead on the Colorado River system. According to a recent story by CAP – the 2022 monsoon season has had a positive impact on Lake Mead pool elevations, although slight. Lake Mead’s elevation increased by almost four feet due to increased intervening flows from summer storms as well as reduced demands by water users.
So what does this all mean, especially for the Colorado River? While precipitation in our arid climate is always welcome, the reality is the Colorado River’s condition is so precarious that it will take numerous years of very wet summers and winters to stabilize the River and return Lakes Mead and Powell to adequate levels. This is because the overallocated Colorado River has experienced over 20 years of dry conditions and reduced precipitation. It is the worst historical period of drought in 1,200 years. Unfortunately, this is not a typical cycle of abnormally dry weather that will be over soon. Instead, we are seeing a warming climate that continues to worsen the hydrologic conditions in the Colorado River Basin. As temperatures climb, less snow is falling, and what snowfall does occur disappears before it can melt and flow into streams and rivers and ultimately into the Colorado River. The increase in temperatures creates a dry watershed where parched soils soak up the moisture. Plants are growing sooner in the year, using up more water. This phenomenon is called aridification, which adds a new complexity to managing the River system. Water managers understand that all of this means the River will be producing less water than what we’ve grown accustomed to.
Knowing this, the ten AMWUA cities have methodically, proactively, and carefully planned and invested in their diverse water supplies. Now, as the Colorado River situation worsens quicker than expected, the cities continue to invest in water supply resiliency projects, including new infrastructure projects, enhancing water loss control programs, reducing water use at their facilities, and expanding customer outreach and conservation programs. It is also important to remember that each Valley city has different portfolios of water supplies, and none of them rely 100% on Colorado River water.
While we will always welcome whatever rain comes from the monsoon season, we must remain realistic about our changing climate, arid conditions, and how we cannot rely only on Mother Nature to provide solutions.
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For over 50 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe, and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information, visit www.amwua.org.