For many states, the rainy season is over, and most of the Western United States is now locked into a fourth consecutive year of drought. The imminent dry summer is particularly foreboding for California, where more than 44% of land area is engulfed in an exceptional level of drought. This was the highest such share nationwide and the kind of water shortage seen only once a century.
According to a study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), “Droughts in the U.S. Southwest and Central Plains during the last half of this century could be drier and longer than drought conditions seen in those regions in the last 1,000 years.” The likelihood of such a drought is 12%, NASA scientists estimated.
Based on the most recent drought levels estimated as of the week ended April 14 from the U.S. Drought Monitor, 24/7 Wall St. identified the nine states with the most widespread severe to exceptional drought conditions. During periods of severe drought, crop or pasture losses are likely, and water shortages and restrictions are common. Relative to historical trends, severe drought is expected once every 50 years. During times of exceptional drought, these conditions are intensified and water shortages are considered water emergencies. These are the 9 states running out of water.
In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Brad Rippey, agricultural meteorologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), said, “Where people live and where the precipitation falls are two completely different areas.” As a result, water needs to be transported to meet water demands in each state. States rely on a range of water sources.
While Great Plains states rely heavily on groundwater, the western part of the country relies more heavily on surface water, which is replenished each year primarily by the spring thaw. Snowpack levels, therefore, are very important for water supplies.
The U.S. climate is also highly variable, which means wet seasons in different parts of the country occur at different times during the year. For large swathes of the nation, the wet season is primarily in the early spring. Across the Great Plains and southward, on the other hand, the wet season typically peaks during May, June, and July. As Rippey explained, current drought levels as of mid-April may still have a chance to improve in states such as Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
In Western U.S. states, however, peak precipitation was expected from October through March, which means in states such as California, Oregon, and Nevada, the drought levels will most likely not improve much from their mid-April conditions.
The ramifications of such severe drought conditions for these states and for the nation are manifold. California and the Great Basin are major sources of the nation’s food. The production of several water-intensive crops such as cotton, corn, soy, wheat, and rice are already down substantially from when the drought began. Cattle and other livestock also require large quantities of water and nutritious pastures and drinking water.
Beyond the economic impacts, municipal cutbacks and water restrictions have a tangible impact on individuals living in these areas. In addition, Rippey said the likelihood of wildfires is much higher than normal as a result of the dry weather.
On the bright side, Rippey noted the current drought in California is approaching the level of drought experienced in the late 1970s — the last time such drought levels affected the state. This time, reservoirs are at higher levels than they were in the 70s, and water consumption is lower. It appears people are more conscious of the situation, and there may be ways for state officials to adjust to the problem.
To identify the states running out of water, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the percentage of land area in severe to exceptional drought from the U.S. Drought Monitor as of the week ended April 14, 2015. To be considered, a state needed to have at least 20% of its land area affected by severe to exceptional drought. While New Mexico did not meet this criteria after a welcome late winter monsoon, the state still suffered among the worst long-term drought conditions, according to Rippey. We also reviewed drought levels during the same week in 2014. Peak drought levels for 2014 in each state, as well as the number of people affected by each level of drought are also from the Drought Monitor.
These are the states running out of water.