Cienega Creek experienced record breaking drought conditions in summer 2013. PAG conducts flow mapping in June in Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek Outstanding Arizona Waters to determine the minimal length of flow in the during the driest part of the year, coordinated with other river mapping efforts across the region. The perennial flow extent was found to be a record low of 0.93 miles in June 2013. This is 25% lower over one year. The June 2013 flow is 10% of the flow extent compared to the wet years in the mid 1980s when fully 9.5 miles flowed in Preserve during the dry season. PAG’s hydrologic monitoring at Cienega Creek reveals that drought impacts have been noticeable since 2002. Although the creek saw some recovery in 2006-2008, the drought has since become more severe. Each June since 2011, the record low flow miles are recorded. Current groundwater levels also remain significantly below pre-drought levels.
PAG’s 2012 investigation of shallow groundwater areas revealed private wells tapping into this riparian area and other similar areas. Drought conditions can be highly localized in the desert southwest so rural private well owners and the riparian habitat live in may experience unique conditions and risks as temperatures rise and precipitation become more variable in coming years.
Since drought information is primarily disseminated by large municipal water providers in urban areas, PAG works with the Local Drought Impact Group to recommend that special consideration for drought stage triggers and outreach be given to vulnerable areas including riparian, shallow groundwater and areas with rural households dependent on private wells. We are approaching a critical threshold for creek in the pre-monsoon season, so we support a focused alert message to areas in localized areas.
PAG contributes hydrologic monitoring data through the AZ Drought Watch, in order to help the Governor’s Drought Task Force assess the status of drought statewide. Thanks to Pima County support, PAG’s data is highly valued by this effort because of the consistent long-term data set that has been collected along Cienega Creek. Because Cienega Creek has been monitored for many years and has relatively low urban development, these findings provide insight into how drought affects our natural environment.