Five pieces of good news for water in the western United States

CPC long lead forecast

CPC long lead forecast

Amid the litany of the apocalypse, with the pictures of fallowed farm fields and dead fish and trees and cracked mud, here are five pieces of good news on western water, both on the supply side and on the demand side.


1. Colorado River Basin storage is up

Total storage in the Colorado River Basin’s big reservoirs ended the 2015 water year up 281,000 acre feet compared to the same time last year. The increase happened in the Upper Basin, with the biggest increases in Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River in Wyoming and Navajo Reservoir on the San Juan in New Mexico. This is not because it was a wet year. Total streamflow above Lake Powell was just 94 percent of average. (Source: USBR draft AOP, Table 1, pdf)

2. Colorado River Lower Basin water use is down

Total projected 2015 water use in Arizona, Nevada, and California, with a bit more than a month left in the calendar year, is on track to be at its lowest point in a decade. At a projected 1.504 million acre feet, the Central Arizona Project, which pumps Colorado River water to the Phoenix and Tucson areas, is on track for its lowest diversions since 2005. The Imperial Irrigation District (desert farming in southeastern California) is, at a projected 2.469 maf, on track for its lowest water-using year since at least 1965 (that’s as far back as my dataset on this goes). Source (pdf)

3. The forecast map is sorta greenish

The Climate Prediction Center’s long lead forecasts, out today, are projecting above-average odds of a wet winter and spring across all of the southwest, and well up into the headwaters of the Colorado River Basin. (see map above, for Jan-Mar).

4. The other forecast map is not very brownish

drought outlook

drought outlook

The seasonal drought outlook, in keeping with the CPC precip maps, calls for the removal of “drought” across the entire Four Corners/Colorado Basin region, with improvement in California:

Sorry, Montana and the rest of you up there on the top of the map. Winners and losers, always, in the Game of Drought.

5. New Mexico drought conditions the best they’ve been in five years

New Mexico drought monitor

New Mexico drought monitor

In my home state of New Mexico, the brown bits are nearly gone from the drought monitor map. That’s the best we’ve been since November 2010.

Final thoughts

The bathtub ring around Lake Mead is still bigger than it’s ever been, and the risk of a formal Lower Basin shortage declaration looms. But the context is important. The supply side is not something we can do anything about (other than reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which we probably oughta thing about?), but we’re seeing some clear progress on the demand side that is worth noting.

And the supply side makes me happy.

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  1. Pingback: Some good #water news in the western USA | Water in Utah

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