The drought continues, and research shows the time between storms is growing

Posted at 12:43 PM, Jul 05, 2021

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Arizona is facing water shortages with a decades long drought showing no signs of letting up. And if you thought monsoon storms are becoming less frequent, University of Arizona research backs that up too. To say farmers have noticed the dry conditions would be an understatement.

“When we tried to get the plow in the ground it did not want to stay in the ground, and we broke a lot of plow shears,” said Pacheco Farm Management Farm Manager Daniel Pacheco.

While the cotton Pacheco grows in Marana seems to enjoy an arid climate as long as it is irrigated, his other crops have not fared so well. He lost about 30-40% of his wheat and sorghum last year.

“Sorghum and wheat are grasses basically, and they need that moisture they need the humidity to pollinate correctly.”

Arizona is more than likely facing a water shortage in 2022. The decades-long drought has led to falling levels in Lake Mead which means a reduction to the Central Arizona Project (CAP) allotment.


Pacheco does not rely heavily on CAP water thanks to supplies of groundwater in the area, but the farmers and ranchers in Pinal County do.

“The farmers to the north of us are really scared right now. We need water to make crops grow and crops are what feed us. We can’t rely on other countries for our food and fiber.”

On top of dry conditions overall, University of Arizona research shows the average time between storms in the western United States has increased by about 50%.

“In the 1970s that time was about 30 days, and now it is up to about 48 days,” said Research Hydrologist Dr. Joel Biederman.

Biederman and his team made the conclusion after looking at data from hundreds of climate sites. The length of time between rain events can have big impacts when it comes to agriculture, flash flooding, plant life, and wildfires.

"If you think about what would keep a forest less likely to burn, imagine sprinkling a little water every few days or week is probably more effective than dumping a whole bunch of water in the beginning of summer and then waiting a few months,” he said.

Biederman says the climate trends only point to dry spells getting longer and hotter. Pacheco says his family has been dealing with changing weather since the 1950s, but after 20 years of drought and other pressures, things could reach a breaking point in the next five years.

“If prices stay down on cotton, the landowners will be forced to sell and there will not be any farming here anymore,” he said.