Special Report

8 States Running Out of Water

4. Nevada
> Pct. Severe drought
> Pct. extreme drought: 21.6%
> Pct. exceptional drought: 15.9%

Divided into arid and semi-arid climatic regions, Nevada has the driest climate of any other state in the country. Due to to the state’s dry conditions, laws have been put in place that prohibit new homes from planting grass in their front yards and that provide incentives for homeowners to get rid of existing lawns. However, this summer has been even drier than usual. Slightly more than 76% of Nevada is currently in a state of severe to exceptional drought conditions. Nearly 2.6 million Nevada residents live in drought areas. The Sierra Nevada Mountains and Lake Mead supply Nevada and much of the region with water. Both supplies are weak compared to historical levels. Snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada range is low because of the warm winter, and Lake Mead’s water level has dropped steadily since the regional drought began.

3. California
> Pct. Severe drought
> Pct. extreme drought: 25.1%
> Pct. exceptional drought: 46.0%

More than 92% of California is currently in a state of severe to exceptional drought, one of the highest such shares nationwide. About 46% of the state experienced exceptional drought conditions, the worst possible drought level and by far the highest such share nationwide. By contrast, only about 3% of the nation was in a state of exceptional drought, and only one other state, Nevada, was afflicted by exceptional drought conditions.

California’s current water shortage crisis is in the midst of its fourth straight year. Severe to exceptional drought conditions affected the entire state for two straight months in summer 2014. More than 36.6 million Californians live in areas affected by drought, the highest number of people living in such conditions. However, the number of people affected by the California drought may be far larger as the drought’s impact can extend far beyond the state. 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. The exceptional drought conditions affecting nearly half of the state can cause widespread crop and pasture losses.

2. Washington
> Pct. Severe drought
> Pct. extreme drought: 68.0%
> Pct. exceptional drought: 0.0%

All of Washington is experiencing either severe or extreme drought conditions. The state’s natural resources are also strained. In July, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife restricted fishing on more than 60 rivers and streams across the state to protect wildlife already under stress from low water flows due to the the drought and the resulting increasing water temperatures. Seattle, Washington’s largest city, is notorious for its rainy weather. However, it is currently going through a severe drought after four consecutive months from the spring through summer of well below average rainfall. On the other side of the state, Spokane, Washington’s second largest city, is experiencing even worse drought conditions.

1. Oregon
> Pct. Severe drought
> Pct. extreme drought: 67.3%
> Pct. exceptional drought: 0.0%

All of Oregon is currently in a state of severe to extreme drought, making it the driest state in the country. At 67.3%, a majority of the state is in extreme drought conditions, the second largest share of any state in the country. As is the case with much of the western United States, Oregon relies on snowmelt for its water supply. This year, due to low snow precipitation, the snowpacks have been smaller than average. As a result, the contribution from the annual snowmelt to the state’s water reservoirs was also below average. Many cities across the state have already asked residents to minimize water usage. Vancouver, one of the largest cities in Canada that is just north of the Washington border, is affected by the same drought system. The coastal city in British Columbia has already imposed mandatory restrictions, forbidding residents to water their lawns, refill swimming pools, or wash their cars.

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