Most of us take water for granted but not the people out West - at least not anymore. A terrible drought has developed in that region and it’s affecting cities and states, businesses, farms, and even waterways. Ordinary people are feeling the impact from all sides.
Droughts are not a new problem and they are all too common, particularly out West. But this one is already becoming one for the record books, and with the rainy season essentially over, its severity has become all too obvious.
In fact, this drought situation has been in the making for years, but so far 2021 has been the worst yet. Some man-made and natural lakes have already dropped to historic lows and they could drop even further unless weather patterns change drastically in the coming months - and that’s not expected to happen.
In fact, long-term weather forecasts are very discouraging. Here is what the Associated Press recently wrote: “The US Bureau of Reclamation’s 24-month projections released this week forecast that less water will flow from the Rocky Mountains through Lake Powell and Lake Mead and into the Southwest desert regions to the Gulf of California. The two lakes are expected to suffer from water shortages that could threaten the supply of the Colorado River, which farms and sprawling cities rely on.”
Among the worst-hit areas are the Four Corners, the point where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet. But by no means is the drought limited to them. States including Nevada and Arizona are bracing for what could be the first-ever federally-declared water shortage. If that happens, water usage would have to be cut sharply.
Conditions are so dry that even far away North Dakota is feeling the effects. The three months from January to March have been the driest in the last 126 years. And the first week of April didn’t bring any relief. On the contrary - summer-like heat, gusty winds, and low humidity have exacerbated the drying conditions. According to the US Drought Monitor, which monitors these conditions around the country, approximately 70 percent of this state is now experiencing “extreme drought,” while the rest is in “severe drought.”
Dollars And Droughts
Not surprisingly, the markets and food companies are watching the weather out in the West to study how they may affect food prices. Agri-pulse.com reports that global food prices have already increased for 10 consecutive months. The futures prices of both spring wheat and canola are at or near their highest levels in years, and according to numerous press reports, hyperinflation could be just ahead. Meanwhile, the dry weather pattern shows no signs of breaking any time soon.
No wonder farmers out West are warning that a second Dust Bowl is in the making and that crop failures it creates could be devastating. If this sounds like hype, it’s not. Some of the dust storms in Western states were so large they could be seen from space.
As of mid-April, 62% of the US is experiencing at least some level of dryness. Although this marks a 2-point improvement over the previous week, the areas suffering from the most extreme level of drought grew, and they now cover more than 9% of the country. As a matter of information, most of New York State is rated as abnormally dry.
Texas is another state suffering from this crisis; one farmer there hasn’t had any rain in more than two years. Some 8.5% of the state is now suffering from exceptional drought, and 25% more from extreme drought, and farmers are facing a dilemma: Either let their land lie fallow or risk lots of money planting crops they believe will not grow.
Farmers on the border of California and Oregon were recently informed that this year they will get only “a tiny fraction of the water they need.” Because of the extreme conditions, water allocations in some areas of California will have to be cut by up to 95 percent.
Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the US; it provides water to parts of Arizona, California, Nevada, and even to Mexico. According to Wikipedia, 20 million people depend on this lake for all of much of their water needs, as do large tracts of farmland. However, this has become a serious problem because the government’s Bureau of Reclamation is now projecting that the water level in Lake Mead could soon fall to the lowest level ever recorded.
New Mexico is certainly sympathetic to this problem - and not just because it is geographically nearby. The largest reservoir in that state has less than 11 percent of capacity - and this level was recorded even before the hot summer weather has set in.
Anyone who takes the attitude that “the drought is unfortunate, but let the people out West worry; it’s their problem” should think again. The ramifications are already reaching across state lines and even across the country.
For example, North Dakota and other Northern Plains states grow much of the wheat used to make flour and pasta, and prices are rising sharply. Some of the nation’s prime farming areas are hurting and so are grazing areas, which could lead to still higher prices and/or shortages.
The water levels in many streams, rivers, and lakes are declining; and water systems could be damaged by a variety of problems. Dried up wells have in the past and may once again force residents to shower in locker rooms and make other unpleasant changes to their lifestyles.
Animals and other wildlife are finding it more difficult to get the drinking water they need. Well over 100 million trees have died, and as the drought persists it brings the risks of widespread wildfires and power outages. In March, the snow pack in California was just 61 percent of the average for this time of the year, so it’s very unlikely that any relief will come from that venue.
Of course, it’s possible that storms could form over the Pacific or in the Gulf of Mexico and bring much-needed relief. Even just a few good rainfalls would be very helpful - but at this point no one is forecasting this.
This crisis has become a wishing, hoping, and praying game. Don’t be surprised to hear words like “surcharges,” “cutbacks,” and “restrictions” used repeatedly in the weeks ahead.
Those of us who live in areas where water is plentiful should be very grateful and careful how we use it. After all, such a great blessing should not be taken for granted.