Drought worsens in Arizona, rest of Southwest

Published: Jan. 30, 2014 at 11:23 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 13, 2014 at 11:35 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Tucson hasn't seen any measurable rainfall this year.

Arizona just has not had much rain at all this winter; January is proving to be practically bone dry.

All of that is unusual for us.

Here in Tucson we depend on groundwater and the Central Arizona Project. That's Colorado River water.

However, when you've had drought conditions for more than a decade, something has got to give.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows that 36 percent of Arizona is in severe drought.

Three months ago it was 14 percent.

The parts of Arizona in severe drought include Tucson and parts of Phoenix.

However, the situation in California is much worse.

We share Colorado River water with California and several other states.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of California is in extreme drought and exceptional drought, which is as bad as it gets.

The lack of water from rain and snow has an impact on everything from cities to agriculture to our pocketbooks.

In the Southwest, including Arizona, there is infrastructure, such as reservoirs, to deal with water shortages and water variability.

Here in Tucson we have water conservation programs.

But what's in our future?

Will Tucson and Phoenix become ghost towns?

We went to CLIMAS, Climate Assessment for the Southwest, where we heard that Tucson and Phoenix are here to stay for a long time, but some things will have to change.

CLIMAS Climatologist Zack Guido says periodic droughts are not unusual, but what is making it worse is the ever increasing temperature as climate changes.

He says a response to the problem can't be the same as it has been.

He says even the infrastructure in place to deal with water shortages could have to be rethought.

"Most of the science is telling us, with some respects, the climate of the past isn't the best gauge for the climate of the future. And warming. It's getting warmer and that will have an impact on water, for instance, and evaporation. It increases evaporation and also increases demand. So there will be changes," Guido says.

"We have to think about things a little bit differently. The water situation of the past may not be the same as the future. And this is in the context of increasing population, changing ways in which we use water. I mean I'm fairly confident that we can come up with solutions and use water and other natural resources in a better way," Guido says.

Dr. Valerie Trouet, of the University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree Ring Research, participated in a webcast Thursday with researchers discussing the connection between drought and climate change.

Trouet says Arizona has something going for it that California does not.

"We have not had any precipitation for the last six weeks, which is unusual, even by Tucson standards. So we're definitely experiencing drought here. That being said, our position is--if we want to say--so not as dire as the conditions in California because we're lucky enough to have a summer monsoon that we can count on. So even if we have an extremely dry winter, some of our drought conditions might be alleviated come summer. And this is not the case in California which has a Mediterranean climate where, if no water or snow falls in winter, that's it. You have to wait another year to alleviate drought."

Guido says a national response to the drought issue is in the planning stages.

He says there are several ways to go about that could include addressing climate change in addition to finding ways to better use the water we have.

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