Despite being hit by heavy monsoon rains last month, Arizona still faces a long drought. Learning how you can save water helps everybody!
The Good News…
Heavy monsoon rains in July around the state have lifted several parts of Arizona out of the most severe drought conditions.
July tends to be Phoenix’s wettest month, which averages a little under an inch of rain. But this past month, Phoenicians received 1.8” of rain—the most since 2013. A few spots got up to 4”. Meanwhile, Tucson got socked by summer storms, totaling just a hair over 8”, its wettest July on record! (Rainfall totals for Tucson started being recorded in 1894.)
What Is Drought?
A drought is a period of water shortage, when a lack of rain or snow (PRECIPITATION) produces dry conditions. It can affect a relatively small area or be more widespread, sometimes large enough to engulf an entire continent. It might be as short as one season or, like the one Arizona is in, can last for years!
Droughts are a natural part of climate and there’s almost always drought going on somewhere in the world, posing major challenges for the people, animals and plants that live in that area.
Areas hit by drought can have rivers and reservoirs lose their water, soil crack, trees stressed and VULNERABLE to infestation, crops fail, and grasses and flowers turn brown. These dried-out (arid) conditions can also lead to dangerous and costly wildfires (see “In the Spotlight” on page 5).
The Not-so-Good News…
Despite getting good monsoon rains, almost all of Arizona is still in a drought! Before the much-needed rain, more than half of the state was in an “Exceptional Drought,” which is the worst drought level. Many other areas were considered in “Extreme Drought,” which isn’t quite as bad.
But with the monsoon, only about 9 percent of the state remains in Exceptional Drought. It’s the SEVERITY of our drought that has been lessened so that about 86 percent of Arizona is now in Severe or Extreme Drought. By some measures, we’re in our 28th year of drought, so it’s going to take more than one really wet month to break out of our drought.
The Water that We Use
Phoenix Water provides water for 1.7 million people and wastewater services for almost 3 million customers! It is also one of the regional campaign steering committee partners with Water – Use It Wisely, a water conservation campaign. The campaign provides the community simple and fun water-saving tips to encourage water conservation.
Christian Delgado is a water resource specialist for Phoenix Water. “The more we can conserve, the better it is for everybody,” he emphasizes.
Overall, folks in the Valley do pretty well when it comes to conserving water. On average, each person uses about 120 gallons each day. “Our Phoenix customers are conserving a little more water (averaging just 105 gallons per person per day),” Delgado says. “And they’re actually doing better now than they were 30 or 40 years ago. Water usage has gone down substantially because they are very water conscious and due to some changes in technology.”
For Phoenix Water customers, about 60 percent of their water comes from the Salt and Verde rivers to the east of us, he says. Almost 40 percent comes from the Colorado River, plus some groundwater is pumped, too. Other Valley cities may have different water sources or percentages.
“Conserving water is very important because of the drought,” Delgado points out. “We don’t know how long the drought will last. We don’t know what the severity will be. So every last bit of water counts. If we save more at home, that means we can save more from the original sources, which means we’ll have more for the future.”
Saving Water Outdoors
But did you know that most of the water that people use, especially during our hot summer months, goes to outdoor water use—keeping our plants green?
Be sure to check out wateruseitwisely.com for a ton of simple ways you and your family and classroom can save water, which, Delgado points out, can also save on water bills! There are great tips on ways you can conserve water outdoors and indoors, tips for kids and teachers, and pointers on rainwater harvesting and xeriscaping.
When it rains, Delgado suggests skipping a watering day or two. Parents might pause their drip irrigation system for a couple days, and some systems have rain sensors that automatically pause!
Sometimes rain gutters can be aimed where they can be more beneficial like at trees or shrubs.
Instead of bathing your dog in the bathtub, bathe your dog on the lawn so the water does double duty!
And if you’re lucky enough to have a swimming pool, cut down on splashing water out of the pool so it doesn’t have to refill as much.
Drip irrigation systems are a good idea for homeowners because they put the water right where the plant is and can deliver just the right amount needed. But periodically check to make sure they haven’t sprung leaks, which can waste a lot of water.
If homeowners want to improve their landscaping, Delgado says trees can go a long way by providing shade and a cooling effect. Trees and shrubs can be strategically planted on the south and west sides of a home. “Desert-adapted trees use less water than a non-desert adapted one,” he adds. Another benefit of going with more native plants is that they can attract desert wildlife to your yard!
Reducing lawn areas and designing water catchment areas to create “rain gardens” are also good ideas.
Saving Water Indoors
Indoors, keep an ear out for running water or drips when it’s quiet. Delgado says that toilets are usually the top water user inside, followed closely by showers and bathtubs.
For toilets, technology has really come a long way. Some low-water use toilets give you an option to flush your liquid waste (which flushes with less water) or a different button for flushing your solid waste. But older toilet tanks can be fitted with a toilet tank bag so less water is used per flush! Delgado says you can buy toilet dye to test to see if your tank is leaking into the bowl and wasting water. He recommends you test your toilets once a year. Often, the leak is due to an inexpensive flapper wearing out.
Making sure you run your dishwasher or washing machine only when they’re full also will save water on each load.
Parents can also keep an eye on their monthly water bill. Any big spikes could indicate there’s a leak somewhere around your home.
Check out a few more fun water-saving tips on this feature and on page 14!