Drought & Shortage
Ongoing drought, climate change, and over-allocation of the Colorado River system are placing increasing pressure on Arizona’s water supplies.
Efforts to stabilize reservoir levels on Lake Mead arecritically important to ensure certainty of water supplies for the water users in the Lower Basin. The Lake drops12 feet annually, even in a normal water year, due to a structural deficit.
Credit: Frani Halperin/H2O Media, Ltd.
Arizona has been in a state of drought for over 20 years, surpassing the worst drought in more than 110 years of record keeping. The dry winter has caused expansion of drought conditions across the state.
The Colorado River system, which provides about 45 percent of the AMWUA members’ water supplies, has experienced extensive drought conditions for the past 18 years. Due to over-allocation exacerbated by drought, Lake Mead has dropped to historically low reservoir levels. Recent projections indicate shortage on the Colorado is possible as early as 2020.
While these conditions are concerning, they are not unexpected. Limited precipitation and extended cycles of drought are the norm in the desert. AMWUA’s members have planned, built, and managed their communities and their water supplies with that in mind, ensuring adequate water to meet the needs of their residents and businesses through the past two decades and even as the drought continues.
- Diverse water supplies. Multiple sources of water—Salt and Verde River water, Colorado River water, reclaimed water, unused water stored underground in previous years, and a certain amount of groundwater—enable the cities to offset reductions in one or more supplies.
- Infrastructure. Our water supply systems are built to manage extended periods of limited precipitation. Reservoirs on both the Colorado River and the Salt and Verde Rivers capture vast amounts of water during wet periods for times when there is less precipitation.
- Recycling. The AMWUA cities reclaim all of their wastewater, putting nearly 100 percent to beneficial uses—including energy production, irrigation, and underground storage for use in times of shortage—and offsetting the demand for surface supplies.
- Underground storage. The AMWUA members have collectively invested more than $400 million to store more than 2.4 million acre-feet of water underground for future withdrawal and use in times of surface water reductions. That's enough water to meet the needs of the AMWUA members for three years, but it would never be used up that quickly because of the diversity of our water supplies. It's our shortage savings account.
- Conservation and efficiency. Large water providers in the most populous areas of the state have been required to meet mandatory conservation requirements for more than 30 years, reducing per capita demand and stretching supplies. The AMWUA cities have led the effort, collectively implementing more than 300 conservation and water use efficiency practices, including aggressive system leak detection and repair; increasingly sophisticated metering and tracking of water use; customer outreach, education, and assistance; rebates and incentives; ordinances and codes; and conservation-based rates.
- Planning. In addition to meeting the state’s 100-year water supply requirements, AMWUA members invest in ongoing long-range planning, including extensive research to understand future water demand trends, growth patterns, supply availability, impacts of drought and climate change, and potential regulatory impacts.
- Drought plans. All Arizona water providers are required to adopt tiered drought preparedness plans (sometimes called shortage plans). These plans are designed to incrementally reduce demands during times of shortage in order to ensure there is water to meet the needs of residents and to support the economy. Drought plans are intended to achieve water use reductions above and beyond normal conservation efforts, bringing demand in line with available supplies to avoid reaching an advanced, emergency stage.
The AMWUA member municipalities continuously monitor and evaluate the availability of supplies and will decide when to implement their drought response plans based on supply projections and management strategies. It's possible that some cities may activate their plans in the nearer term, while some may not need to launch them for many years, depending on how shortage affects their unique water supply portfolios. Contact your city for information specific to your community.
If drought and shortage continue, and as drought plans are implemented, cities will begin to ask the public to voluntarily increase efforts to reduce water use, above and beyond ongoing conservation efforts.
Because Arizona leaders made tough decisions early on and because Valley cities have diligently prepared for drought and shortage, we have avoided water use restrictions, and they are unlikely in the near future. Many of the conservation efforts implemented in other states as emergency measures to address shortages were established in the Valley decades ago as a way of life. The AMWUA cities each have robust conservation programs that encourage customers to adopt conservation as a way of life in the desert.
As our history has proven, today’s actions can avert tomorrow’s crisis. It is imperative that we continue to take proactive measures to avert potential future impacts of sustained drought, increasing temperatures, and potential shortages in surface water supplies.
"The groundwork laid in Arizona will set the stage for a broader set of basin-wide solutions that will help address the water supply and demand imbalance in the Colorado River Basin.” – Mike Connor, former deputy secretary, Dept. of Interior
The Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR), Central Arizona Project (CAP), Salt River Project (SRP), the Colorado River Basin States, the federal government, Mexico, cities, tribes non-governmental organizations and agriculture are actively working on collaborative efforts to make our systems more resilient as we face ongoing drought, climate impacts, and continued growth. These efforts will allow more time to reduce demands and build additional solutions to manage supplies. Examples include the System Conservation Program and the Phoenix-Tucson Pilot. AMWUA facilitates information sharing among its members and the agencies involved in these efforts as needed.
The Drought Contingency Plan
Arizona took an important step on January 31 to protect its Colorado River water and maintain control of its future when the Governor signed legislation approving the State’s participation in the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). In doing so, Arizona proved to itself and fellow Colorado River basin states, that it still has what it takes to hammer out a hard-fought compromise that ultimately protects the State’s collective interests.
DCP is a plan negotiated by the seven Colorado River basin states to take less water from Lake Mead over the next seven years to prevent the lake from falling to catastrophic levels. Before agreeing to sign the interstate DCP, the State had to also agree to a plan for how DCP would be implemented in Arizona. After months of difficult negotiations, a carefully crafted implementation plan, that addresses the major requirements of Arizona’s various water using stakeholders, was put together.
At a cost of more than $140 million, the majority of which is funded by you the taxpayers, the implementation plan will mitigate the impacts of DCP on Pinal County irrigation districts that will no longer receive Colorado River water under DCP shortages, and on Tribes and cities that rely on Non-Indian Agriculture (NIA) priority water, which would be reduced and later eliminated under DCP shortages. Importantly, this implementation plan ensures that Arizona leaves water in Lake Mead to help protect the Colorado River system from deeper shortages.
The Governor’s Water Augmentation, Innovation and Conservation Council
The Governor’s Water Augmentation, Innovation and Conservation Council (Governor's Water Council) was created to investigate long-term water augmentation strategies, additional water conservation opportunities, and funding and infrastructure needs to help secure water supplies for Arizona’s future. The Governor’s Water Council has active committees looking at desalination, recycling water, long-term augmentation, and finances. AMWUA’s executive director serves on the Council and staff participates in the related committees.
The Governor’s Water Plan
Throughout much of 2017, the Governor engaged stakeholders through meetings known as the “Water Solutions Conversation,” designed to address the state’s most critical water challenges and provide recommendations to the legislature, including reforms to improve the management of Arizona’s Colorado River entitlement and groundwater.
Securing Arizona’s Water Future details the legislative solutions that are the outcome of the process, including additional tools to enable voluntary conservation of Colorado River water by providing the State with forbearance authority relating to specified circumstances. This would contribute to higher Lake Mead elevations, reducing the likelihood of a shortage and providing increased protection from the economic consequences of water-delivery reductions. And since decisions about Arizona’s water supply affect the entire state, the Governor’s plan ensures accountability by requiring State authorization before entering into interstate deals involving Colorado River water.
Mayor Jim Lane, the current president of AMWUA’s Board of Directors, was a member of the plenary group convened by the Governor. AMWUA participated in the numerous Water Solutions Conversation meetings and kept its members apprised about the issues debated.
The Governor’s Water Solutions Conversation has significantly raised the awareness of water issues at the Arizona Legislature. Unfortunately, differences among Arizona’s water community and between the Governor and the Legislature have stalled effective action. AMWUA and others are advocating that measures be taken now to avoid a shortage declaration on the Colorado River and to reaffirm that the Department of Water Resources is responsible for Arizona’s Colorado River supplies.
SRP Watershed Forest Management
The water in SRP's system starts as rain and snow in the forests of northern Arizona. SRP is working with scientists, government leaders, and researchers to better manage the forest to ensure the quality and sustainability of the water supply.
AMWUA Member Drought Plans
AMWUA Member Drought Information Pages
Other Agency Information
Arizona Water Facts: Do We Have Enough? (ADWR)
Arizona Drought Monitor (ADWR)
Drought in the Colorado River Basin (BOR)
Colorado River Shortage: Impacts on Arizona (CAP)
SRP’s Drought FAQs
Central Arizona’s water supply systems are built to manage extended periods of limited precipitation. The SRP reservoir system, which serves the Phoenix metro area, has a storage capacity of 2.3 million acre-feet. Credit: James Eastwood, SRP
What You Can Do
- Learn more about what your community has done to prepare for drought and shortage and how you can assist. Stay informed of water supply and shortage conditions.
- Call on elected leaders to support policies, strategies, and investments to protect and shore up water supplies. Remind them that our economy won’t function without secure, reliable supplies.
- Conservation should be a way of life at all times, but it is particularly important during drought. Being careful stewards of water can help reduce the impacts of drought on water supplies and delay or eliminate the need for mandatory water use restrictions. AMWUA municipalities have programs and professional staff to assist residents and businesses to improve efficiency and reduce water use. Visit the conservation section of our website, and contact member water conservation offices to learn what assistance is available locally.
Preparing for drought today can lessen the impacts of restrictions, should they be necessary in the future.