‘Truly an emergency’: how drought returned to California with scientists sounding the alarm

8 June 2021

(Credit: Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

California is facing another drought just two years after the last one ended. According to official estimates, the state’s previous drought lasted seven years, from December 2011 to March 2019. The Guardian reports:

Just two years after California celebrated the end of its last devastating drought, the state is facing another one. Snowpack has dwindled to nearly nothing, the state’s 1,500 reservoirs are at only 50% of their average levels, and federal and local agencies have begun to issue water restrictions.

Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a drought emergency in 41 of the state’s 58 counties. Meanwhile, temperatures are surging as the region braces for what is expected to be another record-breaking fire season, and scientists are sounding the alarm about the state’s readiness.

“What we are seeing right now is very severe, dry conditions and in some cases and some parts of the west, the lowest in-flows to reservoirs on record,” says Roger Pulwarty, a senior scientist in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) physical sciences laboratory, adding that, while the system is designed to withstand dry periods, “a lot of the slack in our system has already been used up”.

“We are truly in an emergency situation,” Rick Callender, CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which delivers water to 2 million residents south of the San Francisco Bay Area, told the Mercury News last week. The agency will enact mandatory restrictions across the county, adding that the public should anticipate cutbacks to increase as the situation intensifies. “We’re going to be seeking everything we can do to address this emergency.”

Data from the US Drought Monitor shows that 72 percent of the Western US is classified as experiencing “severe” drought. The New York Times reports:

How bad is the current drought in the West?

It’s very bad, both in terms of the size of the affected area and the severity. The latest map from the drought monitor shows that all or nearly all of California, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and North Dakota are in drought, and in large areas of those states conditions are “severe” or “exceptional.” Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Montana, South Dakota and southwestern Texas are also affected.

But maps tell only part of the story. The drought is having enormous effects throughout the West, where the demand for water has increased greatly over decades as the population has grown.

In New Mexico, farmers along the Rio Grande were urged not to plant this year. Crop failures have been reported in Colorado and other farming areas. The level of Lake Mead, the huge reservoir on the Colorado River, is so low that Arizona, Nevada and other states will likely face cutbacks in supplies. In North Dakota, ranchers are trucking water and supplemental feed for their livestock because the rangelands are so dry and the vegetation is stunted.

Drought emergency as reservoirs going dry

Facing drought, California farmers plan for economic disaster

Drought Stretches Across American West | NBC Nightly News

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