El Niño likely to provide steadiness in Arizona water levels over next year

Jan 3, 2024, 12:00 PM | Updated: 4:15 pm

PHOENIX — Heavy precipitation due to El Niño could help maintain Arizona’s water levels in 2024, according to a climatologist in the state.

Randy Cerveny, also a professor of geographical sciences at Arizona State University, said the weather pattern that typically results in higher than normal precipitation levels across the Southwest, including in Arizona, is key for keeping water levels at least steady this year.

“Water that falls during the monsoon tends to run off and not really contribute much to the level of our reservoirs, but it’s the snow that gradually melts and percolates down into the groundwater, into the reservoirs that is really important stuff,” Cerveny told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Tuesday.

“So, the more precipitation that we can get in the winter time, the better our reservoirs are going to look.”

Arizona had three consecutive winters of La Niña, the weather pattern that typically results in less precipitation across the Southwest, before this cycle. Last winter bucked the trend with unusually wet conditions, a pleasant surprise for Arizona’s water supply.

Salt River Project’s six dams are 81% full as of Wednesday, up 13% from a year ago. Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the Colorado River’s two key reservoirs, were around 30% capacity.

A second consecutive unusually wet winter, especially with ample runoff from the high country, would allow those levels to at least remain steady, according to Cerveny.

“The current forecasts are showing that they’re going to maintain about the same level that they are today,” Cerveny said. “On the other side of the coin, we’re not going to sink down into really drastic shortages.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Colton Krolak contributed to this report.

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El Niño likely to provide steadiness in Arizona water levels over next year