Special Report

9 States Running Out of Water

3. Utah
> Pct. severe drought:
53.2%
> Pct. extreme drought:
9.3% (6th highest)
> Pct. exceptional drought:
0.0% (tied–the lowest)

Compared to last year, the amount of Utah land affected by severe to exceptional drought conditions as of the week ended April 14 has grown threefold. The drought is parching an estimated 53.2% of Utah compared with 17.9% of land last year. An estimated 2.1 million people live in the area currently experiencing the severe drought. Utah’s water supply managers could be facing one of the worst water supply years on record for the state. As of April 1, when snowpacks in Utah usually peak, snowpacks across the state were exceptionally poor, and all low elevation sites are completely melted. Around the same time, precipitation in the state was 47% of average. Earlier this month, the USDA designated two Utah counties natural disaster areas as a result of drought conditions. The declaration means farmers, ranchers, and businesses in the affected areas are eligible for emergency low-interest loans.

2. Nevada
> Pct. severe drought:
85.7%
> Pct. extreme drought:
48.0% (2nd highest)
> Pct. exceptional drought:
18.4% (2nd highest)

Severe to exceptional drought conditions were afflicting nearly 86% of Nevada as of the week ended April 14, approaching the 2014 peak level of 87% of land affected by severe to exceptional drought. Drought did not peak last year until mid May into June, however, which means Nevada may see conditions worsen by the end of this summer. Already, 354,725 Nevada residents are affected by exceptional drought levels, the second-highest number after only California. The Sierra Nevada mountains and the Lake Mead reservoir supply Nevada and much of the region with water. Both supplies are weak compared to historical levels, however. Snowmelt on the Sierra Nevada range is low on account of a warm winter, and Lake Mead’s water level has dropped steadily since the regional drought began.

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1. California
> Pct. severe drought:
93.4%
> Pct. extreme drought:
66.6% (the highest)
> Pct. exceptional drought:
44.3% (the highest)

More than 93% of California was engulfed in severe to exceptional drought as of the week ended April 14, the highest such share nationwide. More than 44% of the state experienced exceptional drought conditions, the highest such drought level and by far the worst such share nationwide. By contrast, less than 3% of the nation was in a state of exceptional drought, and only 18.4% of second-place Nevada was as afflicted. Peak precipitation levels in California normally occur between October and March, which means the time to replenish the dwindling supplies is largely over. California and much of the Western United States saw little to no precipitation that week.

California’s current water shortage crisis is entering its fourth straight year. Severe to exceptional drought conditions affected 100% of the state for two straight months last summer. Nearly 20 million Californians live in the areas affected by exceptional drought, the highest raw number and an understatement of the real impact. Most of California’s water usage is for agriculture, and the state generates a huge portion of the nation’s food, including more than two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts. In addition, as Rippey noted, drought conditions raise the likelihood of wildfires in the coming dry season.