Experts say wet winter will not improve long-term drought

Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 8:44 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - This winter we’ve seen lots of snow and rain here in southern Arizona and it’s added to the water supply. In spite of that, we’re also in the middle of a megadrought and water usage is predicted to increase over the coming years due to climate change.

For our short term water supply, the recent rain and snowfall is a big help. But long term, there’s still a lot of concern and we’re not out of the woods yet.

″We are in a 23-year driest period on record and one good snowpack year will not get us out of that,” said Dr. Nolie Templeton, planning analyst with Central Arizona Project.

Despite a winter of above average rain and snow, our water situation is not solved. Experts say it would take several wet winters to make a sizeable dent in the drought.

“People interested in the long-term sustainability of our water supply still have plenty to worry about, but we may have a year of breathing room before things reach the crisis that we were approaching before we had this good winter,” said Susanna Eden, research and outreach program officer for the Water Resources Center at the University of Arizona.

The winter has had a positive impact on our short-term water supply here in Arizona and snowpack in other spots across the west has improved the supply in the Colorado river basin.

″I think the most recent number I saw was about 158% of the median for the upper Colorado river basin, which is really great,” said Dr. Templeton.

But this isn’t expected to have a long-lasting impact. Temperatures are climbing which weighs on the water supply.

″As we look to the future, our climate is changing and that means that temperatures in the basin are warming,” she explained. “Climate models are a bit all over the place with regards to precipitation, but they all agree that in the future, temperatures will continue to increase. "

The temperature increase will determine soil conditions, which impacts water runoff and ultimately the water crisis. Warming increases water demand for vegetation, animals, as well as people. This could lead to water limitations in the future.

″Given the situation on the Colorado river particularly, cutbacks are inevitable. People will have to find ways to do what they need to do with water in more efficient ways,” said Eden.

Experts say the future of the water crisis depends a lot on the way that people respond. There are lots of simple ways to conserve water in everyday life. You can find tips on conserving water here.