Lake Powell drought

Lake Powell has dropped 45 feet in the past year.

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Our holiday storm systems, the two that dropped rain and snow across Arizona over Christmas and again on New Year’s, had a nice, albeit small, impact on our short-term drought situation in the state. The U.S. Drought Monitor map is released every Thursday, showing parts of the United States in drought conditions. The team of government scientists and climatologists span an entire range of government agencies, and they classify areas in four different levels of drought: D1: Moderate, D2: Severe, D3: Extreme, D4: Exceptional.

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When you look at the numbers, a few things immediately pop out and can be attributed to those holiday storms. In the first 11 days of January, the state of Arizona that was classified to be in moderate drought conditions dropped by 4%. We were flat in both the severe, extreme and exceptional drought categories. But what really stood out is how far we have come since last year at this time.

In 2021, we made a comeback with our wettest months being July, August and December. But this time last year, our state was deep in drought. For Jan. 11, 2021, 100% of our state was classified as experiencing moderate drought, with 98% in the severe category and a whopping 94% categorized as extreme drought. Compare that to this year's 5% in the same category-a 89% difference. Last year at this time, 73% of our state was classified as exceptional. Here's the latest map depicting snow cover in Arizona.

The drought story concerning the reservoirs that impact Arizona is a mixed bag. While we’re not in terrible shape in the state, the Salt River Project watershed, the Colorado Watershed, which supplies much of our water, is in relatively poor shape right now in terms of water storage.

Currently, the SRP watershed reservoirs are about 71% full. Not bad. But a year ago, we had more water in the lakes at this time. The mitigating factor may be the snowpack right now is in better shape than a year ago. However, according to SRP, the snowpack was at 150% at the start of the year and is now down to 110%. Still above average.

Salt River Project Watershed Report January 2022

For the Colorado River, the situation is dire. Lake Powell has dropped 45 feet in the past year while Lake Mead is down 17 feet. 

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Lake Powell Water Level January 2022
Lake Mead Water Levels January 2022

Again, if there’s a silver lining, the snowpack on the Colorado River Watershed is at about 130% of average right now. Suffice to say, we can still use a bunch of snow over the next several months.

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