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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Drought expands grip on California and Southwest

A pronounced lack of precipitation during the calendar year in California and assorted other western states could put added pressure on water availability in affected states.

(CN) — California’s water issues are compounding as drought is expanding in the state, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report. 

Approximately 35% of the Golden State is immured in extreme drought, the second worst category, which is an increase from 12% just last week. The culprit has been the record-setting dry beginning to 2022, as several regions throughout California have not had a single drop of precipitation since December when the last major storm pushed through. 

But California is not alone. 

Forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the outlook for spring is more clear skies and dry weather, meaning drought will be bad in California, but also in the Four Corners region and other areas where reservoirs are depleted. 

“With nearly 60% of the continental U.S. experiencing minor to exceptional drought conditions, this is the largest drought coverage we’ve seen in the U.S. since 2013,” said Jon Gottschalck with NOAA. “It’s very likely, or makes sense, that certainly some of the drought areas will become worse.”

Officials fear that will make the water picture in California quite bleak. 

Water availability is a real concern as allocation from the Central Valley Project is likely to be either much reduced or non-existent for many farmers in California’s Central Valley, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Lake Shasta is at 38% of its total capacity, which is well below the historic average of 50%. Folsom Reservoir presents a more stark contrast. Its historic average for capacity sits at 95%, or nearly full. Right now it is about half full. 

“With only one month left in California’s wet season and no major storms in the forecast, Californians should plan for a third year of drought conditions,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth during the last snow survey

Drought is also intensifying in northern Texas and Oklahoma in the panhandle as well as the Four Corners region, where Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico intersect. 

“The Colorado River Basin, we are seeing the Bureau of Reclamation begin their calls for additional actions that will provide or curtail some water allocations,” said Ed Clark of NOAA during Thursday’s meeting with reporters. 

Lake Powell dipped below a critical threshold of 3,525 feet above sea level this past week, something that has not occurred since the reservoir was first filled with water in 1963. 

If the water falls by another 35 feet, the hydroelectric dam that supplies power to surrounding communities will be forced to stop operating. Officials at NOAA are increasingly pointing to the changing climate as the reason for the lack of precipitation in the American West. While droughts have always been a parcel of life in the West, climate change means that droughts happen with more frequency and more intensity due to rising temperatures, according to UN Scientists.

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Categories / Environment, Government, Regional

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