Arizona is in Drought but for How Much Longer?

Arizona is in Drought but for How Much Longer?

ADWR Director Michael J. Lacey (left) and ADEM Director Wendy Smith-Reeve present Chuck McHugh (center) with a plaque in recognition of his years of service to the Drought Interagency Coordinating Group.

Let’s pretend for a second that the drought in Arizona is a person. If it were, he or she would be a 15-year-old sophomore in high school—old enough to have a driver’s permit and work a part-time job. And just like a teenager, the drought is getting older and bolder.


The people who keep track of the drought and its effects on the lives, livelihoods and property of Arizonans are part of a working group called the Governor’s Drought Interagency Coordinating Group (ICG). The ICG held a public meeting on Nov. 13 at the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) in Phoenix to report on the state of the drought in Arizona.


Chuck McHugh is Assistant Director for Operations at the Arizona Division of Emergency Management (ADEM), and co-chair of the ICG. He says one of the (if not the) most important responsibilities of the ICG is to recommend to the Governor whether he or she should sustain the drought emergency declaration signed in 1999.


“Making a recommendation to the Governor is an ongoing purpose of this group,” said McHugh. “Based on the opinions of subject matter experts about the impacts of drought on wildlife and forest health, it’s clear there is merit in continuing the declaration.”


The declaration makes Arizona farmers and ranchers eligible for financial help through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The federal drought assistance programs help keep the agricultural industry afloat in lean times.


“If we look at the impacts of drought from an economic standpoint, it is, without a doubt, among the most costly disasters,” said McHugh. “While the impacts of drought can take several years to unfold, it demands a high level of respect. The fact this group exists sends a strong message to the people of Arizona that we take drought and its impact on the state seriously.”


The ICG was created in March 2003 by the Arizona Drought Preparedness Plan to “coordinate and integrate drought planning and management on all lands within Arizona.” ADEM has been involved since its inception. McHugh says ADEM may someday have to assume a “more assertive role” in getting potable water to impacted communities, but it’s first and foremost the responsibility of commercial utilities to work with local governments to plan for shortages.


You may think that after all the rain we got in August and September the drought would be over. It’s true, according to ADWR, the monsoon did cause “significant improvement in the short term drought”; but, don’t expect the declaration to be lifted as a result. It’s going to take much more than a few good rains to lift Arizona out of drought.


“A study of tree ring records, going back as much as 2,000 years, reveals prolonged spells of wet or dry periods,” said McHugh. “Some of these dry periods have lasted 30 years or longer in the southwest. Given the slow advancement of drought conditions, it is easy for the general public to focus on current water supplies and neglect longer term consequences.”


At any given time, usually one or more areas of the state are in a moderate to severe drought. Drought is a hazard that—like floods and wildfire—we must learn to live with and mitigate against even in years with a wet monsoon. There are simple steps you can take to help conserve water. For example, you can:


  • Avoid flushing the toilet unnecessarily. Dispose of tissues, insects, and other similar waste in the trash rather than the toilet.
  • Avoid taking baths—take short showers instead—turn on water only to get wet and lather and then again to rinse off.
  • Hand wash dishes by filling two containers—one with soapy water and the other with rinse water containing a small amount of chlorine bleach.
  • Avoid wasting water waiting for it to get hot. Capture it for other uses such as plant watering or heat it on the stove or in a microwave.
  • Avoid using running water to thaw meat or other frozen foods. Defrost food overnight in the refrigerator or use the defrost setting on your microwave oven.


For more information about drought, visit the Arizona Emergency Information Network (AzEIN) at


ADWR has made a fact sheet about the Drought Interagency Coordinating Group available for download.