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Officials: AZ Starts 2016 with Improved Water Supplies

Lake Powell is one of two storage reservoirs along the Colorado River Basin that provides water to Arizona and six other western states. (Wikimedia Commons)
Lake Powell is one of two storage reservoirs along the Colorado River Basin that provides water to Arizona and six other western states. (Wikimedia Commons)
December 28, 2015

PHOENIX - Despite the long-term drought and ongoing fears of a shortage, water management officials say Arizona will at least begin the New Year with better supplies than many thought possible just a few months ago - and they have Mother Nature to thank for it.

Although levels in Lake Mead remain at just 38-percent of capacity, said U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Steve Leon, it has gained several feet of water to remain above the point that would trigger cuts in Arizona and other states' allotments. Lake Powell is doing even better, he said.

"For the upper basin where Lake Powell is, their precipitation as of this week is 96 percent of average," he said, "and our snowpack right now is 94 percent of average."

In mid-summer, some officials were concerned that water levels could fall dangerously low in the reservoirs, but the unusually rainy fall - attributed to a warm Pacific Ocean current known as El Niño - has alleviated those concerns for now.

In the southern part of the state, Tim Skarupa, a senior hydrologist with the Salt River Project, said that despite a growing population and persistent drought in the region, their reservoir system is more than holding its own.

"So, even though it's been dry - in fact, this has been the driest five-year stretch on record - we've been able to stay at half-full," she said. "In fact, the reservoir's total storage has actually ticked up a percent or two from last year."

Seven states, including Arizona, share water from the Colorado River Basin under an agreement drawn up almost 100 years ago.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ