Jun 30, 2021

2021 Western Water Crisis Hub: Drought, Water Scarcity & Water Resources in the U.S. West

A list of headlines, articles, news pieces, videos and content related to the 2021 Drought in the West

The drought in the U.S. West has stressed water resources, increased water scarcity and forced communities to create water conservation rules.
The drought in the U.S. West has stressed water resources, increased water scarcity and forced communities to create water conservation rules.
The above image uses the June 24, 2021 U.S. Drought Monitor map as a background image to show the size and scope of the drought. View the latest map at https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu.

Drought in California and states in west of the Rocky Mountains in the Western U.S have faced water scarce conditions for years. By autumn of 2020, drought conditions in the Western U.S. were among the worst seen in the previous decade and came to a peak in December of 2020. After a minor decline in severe drought conditions, the climate took a turn for the worse. A particularly dry spring in terms of precipitation in addition to the oncoming summer temperatures have resulted in increasingly worse drought conditions.

With worsening drought conditions and record low reservoir levels, water resources are being strained. Communities and municipalities are banning or limiting watering lawns, washing cars and other activities to conserve water resources and cut water usages by as much as 40% in some cases. With these actions being taken in June and likely several more months of drought conditions on the way, strain on those water resources will only increase. It could become a Western Water Crisis.

This article serves as a place to get the latest news about drought and water scarcity in the U.S. West. It will create and establish a timeline of events cataloging the news and issues surrounding water resources, water scarcity and water conservations efforts. WWD editors will update this post daily with the latest news headlines and articles from national and local media sources as well as WWD's own reporting. Check back daily to learn more about the drought, the challenges it is placing on utilities and their communities, and the solutions those utilities and communities are devising to stave off a record dry summer.

Updated: Wednesday, Aug 4 at 5:10 p.m. CT


How fire today will impact water tomorrow

Aug 4 via CU Boulder.

In 2020, Colorado battled the four largest wildfires in its history, leaving residents anxious for another intense wildfire season this year. 

But last week, fires weren’t the issue—it was their aftermath. When heavy rains fell over the burn scar from the 2020 Cameron Peak fire, they triggered flash flooding and mudslides northwest of Fort Collins which destroyed homes, killed at least three people and damaged major roads. Flooding along the 2020 Grizzly Creek and East Troublesome burn scars also unleashed mudslides across Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon and in Grand County just west of Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Read more here. 

Wildfires Are A Threat To Steamboat Springs’ Water Supply. Here’s How The City Is Getting Ready

Aug 3 via Colorado Public Radio.

The popular ski town relies on Fish Creek for about 93 percent of its normal supply. The postcard Rocky Mountain stream starts as snowmelt before collecting into a narrow canyon, where hikers flock to watch it roar over a 280-foot waterfall. 

Read more here.

Infrastructure provisions contain $8.3B in Western water aid

Aug 2 via Agri-Pulse.

The bipartisan infrastructure agreement that the Senate is preparing to debate includes $8.3 billion in Western water infrastructure funding sought by farm groups in the region that is suffering through an extended drought.

Read more about the western water crisis here.

Three-part webinar series offers expert advice on drought in the Western United States

July 29 via AWWA.

To help water utilities prepare for drought and mitigate its impacts, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) is offering a three-part webinar series entitled, “Western U.S. Drought: What You Need to Know.” The first webinar in the series is July 29.

Registration for the full three-part series is $180 for members and $285 for non-members. Individual webinars are $75 for members and $120 for non-members. Each of the 90-minute webinars begins at 11 a.m. MT.

Register here.

What you need to know about how wildfires spread

July 28 via The Washington Post.

Wildfires depend on a combination of environmental conditions to start and spread. As global temperatures rise, research shows these conditions are appearing more intensely and frequently — escalating the risk of wildfires.

Read more here.

Possible future for Western wildfires: Decade-long burst, followed by gradual decline

July 27 via The University of Washington.

In recent years, wildfires on the West Coast have become larger and more damaging. A combination of almost a century of fire suppression and hotter and drier conditions has created a tinderbox ready to ignite, destroying homes and polluting the air over large areas.

Read more here.

How will the West solve a water crisis if climate change continues to get worse?

July 26 via ABC News.

The West has more hydrologic variability -- more flood years and drought years per average year -- than any other part of the country, Jay Lund, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Davis, and the head of the school's Center for Watershed Sciences told ABC News.

Read more here. 

Motion Seeks More Enforcement Against Water Theft & Illegal Cannabis Grows in LA County, California

July 23 via WWD.

Illegal marijuana cultivation sites in the Antelope Valley are tied to water theft and an uptick in violence in the area.

Read more.

Water ‘crisis’ discussed by Interior’s Haaland, Colorado officials at Denver roundtable

July 22 via Colorado Newsline.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s visit to Colorado began on Thursday at the headquarters of Denver Water, where she met with state and local leaders to discuss federal efforts to deal with the worsening drought conditions that have spread across much of the American West.

Read more.

Opinion: The thirsty West’s dreaded water crisis is here

July 21 via Washington Post.

Everything came down to regular, dependable supply: who had it, who didn’t. All the Western miracles dangled on the question of water. Epics of engineering such as the Hoover Dam and the Los Angeles aqueducts. Vaulting visions such as modern Phoenix and Las Vegas. Miracles of agriculture such as the Central Valley of California.

Read more. 

Dusty snow is making the western drought worse

July 20 via National Geographic.

How to help relieve drought? Limit the growing amount of dust blowing from deserts to mountains, where it melts the snowpack and robs rivers of water.

Read more.

July 19 via The New York Times.

Amid California’s drought, desperate landowners and managers are turning to those who practice an ancient, disputed method for locating water.

Read more.

At Shrinking Lake Mead, a New Coalition Says Status Quo on Colorado River is Failing

July 16 via AZCentral.

With the concrete towers of Hoover Dam in the background and the depleted waters of the nation’s largest reservoir below, an unlikely group of allies — conservation activists, businesspeople and officials representing cities and farming communities — on Thursday called for halting all plans that would take more water from the shrinking Colorado River.

Read more here.

Sierra Snowbank Short on Funds

July 15 via NASA Earth Observatory

According to state and federal scientists, melting in 2021 in the Sierra Nevada occurred three to four weeks earlier than usual. And that snowmelt did not go far. Parched by two years of drought, the soils between the mountains and the valleys soaked up vast quantities of water.

Read more about the western water crisis here.

Western Drought Reveals Cracks in Infrastructure

July 14 via American Farm Bureau Federation.

We are experiencing unusual drought condition across the country this year, but the West has been hit especially hard. The latest reports show that nearly 70% of the region (including the Dakotas) is in severe drought.

Read more here.

The West's Historic Drought in 3 Maps

July 13 via CNN.

An unprecedented, multi-year drought continues to worsen in the West amid a period of record heat and dryness, which scientists say is a clear sign of how the climate crisis is affecting not only the weather, but water supply, food production and electricity generation.

Read more here.

It’s Not Just Water Supply: Drought Harms Water Quality, Too

July 12 via Bloomberg.

A June heat wave sparked an earlier-than-expected algae bloom in the drought-ravaged drinking water reservoir in Price, Utah—a sign of climate change-related water quality challenges to come in the tinder-dry West.

Read more here.

Water Scarcity & Water Stress in US West Drought

July 9 via WWD.

Water scarcity and drought conditions are no stranger to the U.S. West, but the drought in 2021 has the greatest severity seen in a decade and the dry conditions have led to record high temperatures as far north as Seattle, Washington. With increased dry conditions are increased scares of wildfires, just one more thing to stress already stressed water resources. Tricia Anklan is director, energy and utilities for West Monroe, and shares her expertise and insights into the drought in California and the U.S. West. 

Opinion: New Water Wars Are Coming to the American West

July 8 via Bloomberg.

Water has been generating conflicts and controversies in the U.S. for centuries, but the American West could be heading toward the most severe water shortages and skirmishes in the nation’s history.

Read more here.

The Shocking Numbers Behind the Lake Mead Drought Crisis

July 7 via CNN.

The United States' largest reservoir is draining rapidly. Plagued by extreme, climate change-fueled drought and increasing demand for water, Lake Mead on Wednesday registered its lowest level on record since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s.

Read more here.

Drought Conditions Force Utility to Use Colorado River for Drinking Water 

July 6 via WWD.

The Ute Water Conservancy District, serving Grand Junction and Mesa County, Colorado, has for the first time begun to mix Colorado River water into its Grand Mesa reservoir releases. 

According to The Colorado Sun, this action was taken to meet the water needs of 90,000 customers and preserve backup water supplies impacted by severe drought. Previously, drinking water has been drawn from runoff 11,000 feet high on Grand Mesa.

Read more.

Water Crisis Reaches Boiling Point on Oregon-California Line

July 2 via AP News.

Ben DuVal knelt in a barren field near the California-Oregon border and scooped up a handful of parched soil as dust devils whirled around him and birds flitted between empty irrigation pipes.

Read more about the western water crisis here. 

Farm Groups Seek $49 Billion for Western Water & Forests

July 1 via WWD.

More than 200 Western farm and water organizations are pushing for canal and reservoir repairs. 

This includes proposing nearly $49 billion for projects improving water conveyance, dam safety and forest health, reported Western FarmPress.

The organizations crafted a June 9 letter to Chairman Joe Manchin and Ranking Member John Barrasso of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

California's Drought Leads to Cutbacks in Marin County But Not in San Diego

June 30 via LA Times

At the southern end of California, residents have been assured their water supplies are secure and plentiful despite the state’s severe drought.

In Marin County, 500 miles north, lawn sprinklers are allowed only two days a week, washing a car at home is banned, and decorative fountains can’t be refilled. The orders are part of an effort by the local water district to cut usage by 40% after a precipitous fall in the local reservoirs.

Read More

Opinion: Tress Are Dying of Thirst in This Heat & Drought

June 29 via Market Watch

Like humans, trees need water to survive on hot, dry days, and they can survive for only short times under extreme heat and dry conditions.

During prolonged droughts and extreme heat waves like the Western U.S. is experiencing, even native trees that are accustomed to the local climate can start to die.

Read More

Photos: The West's Historic Drought

June 29 via CNN

Much of the Western United States has been experiencing a historic and unrelenting drought, the worst in the region in at least 20 years.

The most severe drought is centered in the Southwest, in California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. But areas of extreme and exceptional drought extend into the Pacific Northwest as well.

Read More

The National Security Risks of the US Drought

June 26 via The Hill

Each new report about this year’s western drought reveals another record-breaking development: Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead is at its lowest level ever. More acres have already burned across California compared to this time last year. Extraordinary electricity demand is straining the Texas electric grid to its limit.

As a former member of the US intelligence community, I have no doubt that intelligence analysts in foreign capitals are watching the reports come in with one purpose in mind — analyzing the impact of these unprecedented developments on security in the United States.

Read More

About the author

To share stories, articles or first hand accounts of the drought, please contact the Water & Wastes Digest staff by emailing [email protected].