Recent rain, snow not enough to end decadelong drought

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Bruce Haffner

Posted on February 11, 2013 at 1:33 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 15 at 1:35 PM

PHOENIX -- Mother Nature handed us a wetter-than-average January, but has all that rain here in the Valley and snow in the high country put a dent in the drought that has held on for more than a decade?

Nope.

According to the National Weather Service, we got 1.39 inches of rain last month -- most of it on Saturday, Jan. 26 -- which made it the 24th wettest January on record for Phoenix. Those weather records go back to 1895.

While it's a good start, it's not nearly enough to get us out of the drought, even if you consider the Climate Prediction Center's forecast for more rain in February than we usually see.

Bruce Haffner recently flew the Fort McDowell Casino News Chopper over the water reservoirs to see how they're looking. Monday morning he talked to SRP's Charlie Ester, the man in charge of the utility's water-resource operations.

"We've been in this drought for over a decade now, so that's really tough to overcome," Ester said. "All this rain and snow that we've had in the last two weeks has really been welcome. It's caused a fair amount of runoff into our reservoir system -- I'd say probably about the volume of Bartlett Lake spread out over the whole reservoir system. That's a lot of water."

While that's great news, it's not enough to end the drought.

"Because we've been in this drought for so long, I really don't think this has changed the overall flavor of the situation at all," Ester continued. "We're still in drought, although we're better off than we were two weeks ago."

More rain and snow can only help the situation.

"If we can get a couple more big storms, maybe we'll actually talk a different story," Ester said.

Ester went on to explain how SRP manages water for the Phoenix. During the summer months, most of the Valley's water comes from the Salt River (west) side of the system. During the winter, it comes from the Verde River side.

While the individual reservoirs on the Verde River side are low now, they're not nearly as low as they were this time last year.

Bartlett Lake was only 37 percent full, while the Horseshoe Lake, which is just north, was virtually empty. According to Salt River Project's Daily Water Report for Monday, Bartlett Lake was at 70 percent capacity while Horseshoe was at 51 percent.

Overall, however, the news was not as good. The total reservoir system, based on Monday's data, was at 56 percent capacity. That's down from 66 percent this time last year and 87 percent in 2011.

After today there is no more rain in our immediate forecast. As for the hope of a wetter-than-normal February dangled by the Climate Prediction Center, it's too soon to know if that will come to pass.

As winter winds down and we edge closer to spring, the 3TV Forecasters will keep you up to date on everything you need to know about our weather situation.

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