Executive Summary for July 6th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including the latest drought contingency talks in Arizona, and drought conditions and wildlife activity across the West.

Published on July 6, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Wildfires Plague the West

About 70 wildfires are burning through 630,000 acres of the West, at last count, with states like California and Colorado especially hard hit.

Colorado is suffering from a brutal fire season, and it’s only the beginning of July. Southern Colorado is battling two of the largest wildfires in the state’s history. The Spring Creek fire is now the fourth-largest in the state’s history and has burned more than 78,000 acres in Huerfano and Costilla counties. And just north of Durango, the 416 fire has burned more than 52,000 acres.

In Northern California, the County fire has burned more than 86,000 acres in Yolo and Napa counties, and was not expected to be fully contained until July 10. And in Lake County, the Pawnee fire, which started on June 23, is nearly fully contained, with 15,000 acres burned.

But hot weather is on the way and that may increase fire danger. “The extreme heat and localized strong offshore winds along the SoCal coastal plain will clearly lead to major fire weather concerns Friday-Saturday,” University of California, Los Angeles climate scientist Daniel Swain wrote. “This will be of particular concern given the high degree of ongoing large fire activity in NorCal and subsequent drawdown of firefighting resources, likely fueled in part by our dry winter and the legacy of long-term drought.”

KUTV in Salt Lake City reported that Utah’s governor has declared a State of Emergency for the month of July, “citing dry and dangerous conditions as well as multiple active wildfires burning throughout the state.”

Some towns in the West canceled fireworks shows on the Fourth out of concern for wildfire risk. Glenwood Springs, Colorado, replaced its fireworks show with a laser show, and Aspen used 50 drones.

Arizona’s Drought Talks

Arizona has been the sticking point in efforts to firm up drought plans between lower basin Colorado River states Nevada, California and Arizona. But recent talks appear to have helped.

Disputes within Arizona between major water users has held up the multi-state agreement. And while many of the issues remain, the Arizona Daily Star reports that significant progress has been made on a path forward, including scheduled public meetings beginning July 26.

The Arizona Daily Star reported, “Officials hope to have a plan ready for the Legislature to approve next year, with ‘zero no votes,’ said Arizona Department of Water Resources director Tom Buschatzke at Thursday’s briefing in Tempe on the drought plan.”

Drought Conditions

Wildfires across the West are no surprise, given the hot and dry conditions in most states and half the region experiencing at least moderate drought.

Arizona has yet to see much relief from drought conditions there as residents anxiously await the summer monsoon season, which has yet to arrive. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, nearly three-quarters of the state is in extreme drought, and almost 16 percent is in exceptional drought, the most severe rating.

“When the monsoon does start, the Climate Prediction Center is predicting it could be beneficial to our parched state,” the Arizona Republic reported.

California is faring better than much of the West, with just 21 percent of the state, at the southern tip, experiencing severe drought conditions. Although a swathe of moderate drought area now extends through Northern California, from the Oregon border to the Bay Area.

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