Special Report

9 States Running Out of Water

6. Colorado
> Pct. severe drought:
39.8%
> Pct. extreme drought:
0.0% (tied–the lowest)
> Pct. exceptional drought
: 0.0% (tied–the lowest)

Drought levels are typically lowest during the winter months when precipitation is at its highest. Melted snow and ice are the major water source of the Western states. Colorado reported relatively low precipitation levels this past winter, however, which partly explains the high drought level. As of the week ended April 14, severe to exceptional drought conditions afflicted nearly 40% of Colorado, the sixth highest such proportion and far higher than the state’s peak level of about 19% between May and June last year. The Colorado Water Conservation Board reported a relatively warm and dry spring as of April. However, reservoir storage was above average levels, and the Board anticipates conditions to stabilize during the spring storm season.

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5. Oregon
> Pct. severe drought:
49.9%
> Pct. extreme drought:
33.7% (4th highest)
> Pct. exceptional drought:
0.1% (5th highest)

As is the case with much of Western U.S., snowmelt is the backbone of Oregon’s water supply. The region’s water consumption relies on high precipitation during the winter months. Winter snowpack slowly melts in the spring, resupplying reservoirs and other water levels. However, this past February was among the warmest on record in Oregon, and severe to exceptional drought levels unexpectedly peaked that month for the year, afflicting 77% of the state’s land area. As a result, the annual snowmelt contribution to the state’s water reservoirs was below average. While the melt did bring down the drought level since February, the snow-drought will still likely exacerbate the effects water shortage. Nearly all of Oregon was affected by abnormally dry drought, and more than 49% of the state’s land area was in a state of severe to exceptional drought, trailing only four other states.

4. Oklahoma
> Pct. severe drought:
51.7%
> Pct. extreme drought:
39.7% (3rd highest)
> Pct. exceptional drought:
10.7% (3rd highest)

While the periods of peak precipitation have passed in the Western U.S., the wet season in Oklahoma has not quite arrived and therefore there may be hope to restore water supplies there. With severe to exceptional drought conditions affecting more than half of Oklahoma as of the week ended April 14, however, the state’s current water shortage is quite dire. Almost 11% of the state’s land area was experiencing exceptional drought, nearly the highest such share in the nation. Oklahoma is also one of a handful of Great Plains states relying heavily on the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies water for about one-fifth of all U.S. wheat, corn, cotton, and cattle production. The Aquifer, which contains water thousands of years old, is currently being depleted faster than it is being replenished.