By Nick Worth
“Monsoon rains helped improve drought conditions in a few areas in the Southwest, but the majority of Arizona and New Mexico continued to experience at least severe drought,” according to a Southwest Climate Outlook report issued by Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) at the University of Arizona.
The report further states, “While monsoon rainfall has been copious in some areas, it has not been enough to compensate for deficits accumulated during the winter; most of the Southwest has experienced less than 70 percent of average precipitation since Oct. 1.”
The lack of rainfall over the past few years has also taken a toll on reservoir levels. According to the CLIMAS report, the projected inflow into Lake Powell is projected to be only 41 percent of the average, for the year 2013.
The report also notes that the upcoming winter rain and snow will be crucial for reservoirs.
The short-term drought status summary for July 2013, compiled by the Arizona Drought Monitoring Technical Committee (ADMTC), states that, “Despite rainfall in July, drought impacts worsened in northern Arizona. Areas of severe and extreme drought have expanded, and ‘exceptional drought’ was introduced into central Navajo and Apache counties.” Exceptional drought is the highest classification of drought recorded by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The drought map of Arizona, found on the Arizona Department of Water resources (ADWR) website at www.azwater.gov, shows southern Navajo County as “abnormally dry,” the lowest drought indicator. Moving northward on the map, drought conditions range from “moderate” to “severe” to “extreme” to a pocket of “exceptional drought” on the Navajo Nation.
The area identified as experiencing exceptional drought is surrounded by an area of extreme drought covering roughly the northern two-thirds of Apache and Navajo counties.
Despite the increased drought in northern Arizona, flash flooding has been a problem in northern Navajo County, a fact mentioned in Tuesday’s Navajo County Board of Supervisors meeting by Chairman Jonathan Nez.
“There has been a lot of rain with the monsoons and some flash flooding,” Nez told the Tribune-News. “It’s a quick downpour and the water just dissipates and washes down the tributaries, or just seeps into the ground.
Nez said that though the rains on the Navajo Nation have been “a blessing,” more is needed.
The short-term drought report also notes, “The extremely dry conditions on the Navajo Nation have resulted in loss of livestock as stock ponds and watering holes have dried up.”
“The water we’re getting just goes into the ground because we’re so dry,” Nez explained. “It’s not staying in the livestock ponds.”
Nez confirmed the lack of water has caused losses of both cattle and horses on the Navajo Nation. He said many livestock owners have been voluntarily selling off their cattle because of the shortage of water.
“We also have a problem with feral horses on the reservation,” said Nez. He said the Navajo Nation Council had drafted some legislation to address the concerns of livestock owners on the reservation.
“Some appropriations have been approved to start rounding up those feral horses. They are utilizing way too much water and vegetation that competes with livestock.”
Ben Shelly, president of the Navajo Nation, declared a state of emergency because of the drought conditions, Nez said. He said the declaration now enables the Navajo Nation to recommend direct assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Nez said the process of applying for FEMA aid is underway.
Another factor that has led to the exceptional drought conditions in Navajo County, as well as the rest of northern Arizona, was a very dry spring that followed a dry winter. According to the long-term drought status update for April and June, this “resulted in worsening of the long-term drought status, particularly in northern and western Arizona.
“The winter storms that typically pass through the northern half of the state were pushed further north into Utah and Colorado, leaving much of Arizona with warmer than normal temperatures and dry conditions. The dry winter and spring exacerbated the wildfire situation,” the report reads.
The Drought Watch reports by the ADMTC state that summer rainfall usually accounts for close to half the annual precipitation for northern Arizona.
As is always the case, recovery from the drought conditions depend, at least in the short term, on a wet monsoon season to refill the depleted watersheds and reservoirs.
By Nick Worth