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Severe Drought, Worsened by Climate Change, Ravages the American West

This year, New Mexican officials have a message for farmers who depend on irrigation water from the Rio Grande and other rivers: Unless you absolutely have to plant this year, don’t.

Years of warming temperatures, a failed rainy season last summer and low snowpack this winter have combined to reduce the state’s rivers to a relative trickle. The agency that controls irrigation flows on the Rio Grande forced the issue. To conserve water, it opened its gates a month later than usual.

Severe drought — largely connected to climate change — is ravaging not only New Mexico but the entire Western half of the United States, from the Pacific Coast, across the Great Basin and desert Southwest, and up through the Rockies to the Northern Plains.

In California, wells are drying up, forcing some homeowners to drill new ones that are deeper and costlier. Lake Mead, on the border of Arizona and Nevada, is so drained of Colorado River water that the two states are facing the eventual possibility of cuts in their supply.

Running Out of Water and Time: How Unprepared is California for 2021’s Drought?

With most of the state gripped by extreme dryness, some conditions are better, some worse, than the last record-breaking drought. Over-pumping of wells hasn’t stopped. But urban residents haven’t lapsed back into water-wasting lifestyles. “We are in worse shape than we were before the last drought, and we are going to be in even worse shape after this one,” said Jay Lund, co-director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at University of California at Davis.

San Diego Spared as Newsom Declares Drought Emergency in 41 of California’s 58 Counties

Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday issued an expanded “drought emergency proclamation” for 41 of the state’s 58 counties, citing above-average temperatures and dry conditions for April and May.

So far, Southern California has been spared the worst of the drought, and the San Diego County Water Authority has said it has supplies to withstand several dry years.

“Gov. Newsom’s latest drought emergency declaration is a grim reminder of the growing water supply challenges across California — and of the value of three decades of our collective dedication to use water efficiently combined with strategic investments that protect San Diego County from dry years,” said Gary Croucher, board chair of the water authority.

“Thanks to efforts of ratepayers, the water authority, and our 24 member agencies, we have sufficient water supplies for 2021 and the foreseeable future,” he said.

 

Water-Use Efficiency, Investments Protect Region as Drought Impacts Spread

“Governor Newsom’s latest drought emergency declaration is a grim reminder of the growing water supply challenges across California – and of the value of three decades of our collective dedication to use water efficiently combined with strategic investments that protect San Diego County from dry years. Thanks to efforts of ratepayers, the Water Authority, and our 24 member agencies, we have sufficient water supplies for 2021 and the foreseeable future.

Our regional adoption of water-use efficiency measures is a major piece of our strategy, with per capita water use falling by almost half over 30 years. At the same time, the rates we pay for water have been invested in new water sources along with major dams and reservoirs that are showing their worth more with each passing day.” – Gary Croucher, Board Chair, San Diego County Water Authority

This is How California’s Water Use Has Changed Since the Last Drought

California is in a serious drought. The National Drought Mitigation Center’s drought monitor puts most of the state in extreme drought zones for the first time since 2015.

The latest instance of drought has once again put the state’s water use under the microscope to identify opportunities for conservation, a task that’s expected to become more challenging as the impacts of climate change intensify.

California Expands Drought Emergency to Large Swath of State

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday expanded a drought emergency to a large swath of the nation’s most populous state while seeking more than $6 billion in multiyear water spending as one of the warmest, driest springs on record threatens another severe wildfire season across the American West.

The Democratic governor said he is acting amid “acute water supply shortages” in northern and central parts of California as he called again for voluntary conservation. Yet the state is in relatively better shape than it was when the last five-year drought ended in 2017, he said, as good habits have led to a 16% reduction in water usage.

Newsom Extends Drought Emergency to 41 California Counties

In a stark indication of California’s growing water crisis, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday declared a drought emergency in 41 counties, including areas of the Central Valley that had urged action on behalf of agricultural growers.

Newsom’s proclamation dramatically expands the drought emergency he declared in Sonoma and Mendocino counties last month, and now covers 30% of the state’s population.

“With the reality of climate change abundantly clear in California, we’re taking urgent action to address acute water supply shortfalls in Northern and Central California while also building our water resilience to safeguard communities in the decades ahead,” Newsom said in a prepared statement. “We’re working with local officials and other partners to protect public health and safety and the environment, and call on all Californians to help meet this challenge by stepping up their efforts to save water.”

‘We Got Unlucky.’ Why Melting Sierra Snow Won’t Save California From Extreme Drought

California’s drought conditions have gone from bad to worse in scarcely a month.

In the weeks following April 1, the traditional end of the rainy season, warm temperatures have burned off most of the Sierra Nevada snowpack and left the state’s water network gasping. Instead of delivering a generous volume of melted snow into California’s rivers and reservoirs, the snowpack has largely evaporated into the air or trickled into the ground.

“We got unlucky. A lot of it didn’t make it into the reservoirs,” said Jeffrey Mount, a geologist and water expert at the Public Policy Institute of California.

Don’t Expect Miracle May This Month on the Colorado River

The Colorado River Basin appears to be out of miracles this spring.

Five years after a “Miracle May” of record rainfall staved off what had appeared to be the river’s first imminent shortage in water deliveries, the hope for another in 2021 “is fading quickly,” says the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center’s latest report, released Thursday.

That’s one more piece of bad news for the Central Arizona Project. A first-time shortage is now likely to slash deliveries of river water to Central Arizona farmers starting in 2022 but won’t affect drinking water supplies for Tucson, Phoenix and other cities, or for tribes and industries that get CAP water.

Mired Again in Drought, Experts Say California Is Better Prepared to Survive

Toxic algae blooms. Exposed, barren shorelines. Racing to prevent salmon die-offs. Sinking farmland. Dry wells. Unseasonable wildfires.

Drought has returned to California and the American West.

Following the fourth-driest winter on record and just a few years after declaring victory over the last drought, California is once again prepping for a summer of water insecurity. Conditions already mirror the last drought, but experts and water managers contend the state is better equipped this time around.