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Snow drought taking toll on river levels, water supply in west

Water disappearing in western U.S.
Published: Jul. 8, 2021 at 7:05 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A decades-long drought is taking its toll, causing water to disappear and causing a snow drought in the western part of the United States. Climate change is impacting water supply and plans are in place to deal with future water shortages. Southern Arizona has seen record-low rainfall.

“It has definitely been one for the books as far as how dry it has been even over the last 12 to 18 months,” said Ken Drozd with the National Weather Service.

He said Tucson is about eight inches behind in rainfall from the past year. Gregg Garfin, a climatologist at the University of Arizona, says a snow drought happens when snow melts too quickly and evaporates before it has time to flow into the soil or nearby streams.

“The atmosphere is robbing us of the beneficial effects of snowpack and snow is so critical to our water supply,” he said.

The drought conditions are impacting river levels in the west. The Colorado River serves 80% of Arizona’s population, according to the Central Arizona Project.

“We anticipate that our Colorado River supply will be less reliable,” Garfin said.

He estimates the river flow could decline by up to 30 percent by the year 2050 and communities may need to get water from other resources. This includes digging groundwater from deep in the earth, removing salt from ocean water or treating and reusing sewage.

“These kinds of measures are more and more likely to become part of our water supply,” he said.

Garfin says Arizonans can do their part by conserving water and using energy more efficiently to help prevent climate change.

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