Originally Published: May 13, 2014 6:02 a.m.
A curious reader called our offices Monday wondering about the drought. His question was simple: what was the average rainfall before the drought began?
According to record-keepers with the National Weather Service, the Prescott-area's average rainfall was 18.75 inches, dating back to 1898. Follow that with lows since the late 1990s, the worst being 2002, and it is easy to understand a headline of: "Weekend rain won't decrease fire danger."
That is what the Courier reported on April 29, 2014, in the wake of a nice weekend of precipitation in the area.
While it was not particularly "nice" for the Whiskey Off-Road mountain bike races or a memorial golf tournament that weekend, the rainfall - and snow in the higher elevations - did not erase what would be called a rainfall deficit. Think about it like the federal government's annual budget deficit and mounting debt; balancing the budget - to remove the annual deficit - does nothing to pay off the trillions in debt.
As precipitation goes, if we receive 13 inches of rain and snowmelt in 2014, that is 5-plus inches below average; wells continue to drop, trees that could survive on their own continue to need watering - or die because of vulnerability to beetles, creeks that used to have water in them year-round run only after a storm, and the water situation becomes more and more precarious.
Look at it this way: if we've been operating under drought conditions for 15 years and have received about 4 inches less than the average each of those years, the Prescott area is 60 inches in a hole.
What's a community to do? The easy answer is self-imposed water conservation measures, such as low-flow showerheads and watering outside fewer days each week. Human nature says people do not change until circumstances directly affect them (read: water not coming out of the tap).
In the southeastern part of the state, Safford residents have been under strict water restrictions since February 2013, with the aim of reducing usage by 30 percent. They cannot refill swimming pools or spas, plant new grass or install sod. Watering outdoors is limited to twice each week, and restaurants serve water only upon request.
Williams, the gateway city to the Grand Canyon, imposed its most severe water restrictions earlier this year. They prohibit outdoor watering and washing cars with potable water. The city also stopped issuing building permits for new development because water is scarce.
It is simple, really. Unless we do it ourselves, the local governments will need to impose restrictions for us.