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.

Official Drought Resources:


Updated: Thursday, Oct. 14 at 2:19 p.m. CT

 

Harris visits Lake Mead to discuss drought, pitch administration’s climate change proposals 

Oct. 18 via Reno Gazette Journal.

Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday will highlight the problems caused by Western drought as she visits Lake Mead in Nevada and makes the case for the Biden administration’s infrastructure and climate change proposals that have stalled in Congress.

Read more here.

Drought-stricken Western towns say no to developers

Oct. 14 via The Counter.

In the small city of Oakley, Utah, the drought conditions parching much of the West have depleted the natural springs that supply water to the community. During each of the past several summers, local leaders worried that quenching any major fire might empty the city’s water tanks.

Read more here. 

Western Drought Drives Decline in Hydroelectric Power Generation

Oct. 13 via The Smithsonian.

The drought facing much of the American West is hurting the region’s ability to generate electricity by throttling the water flowing through hydroelectric power plants, reports Michael Phillis for the Associated Press

Read more here.

Drought-Stricken Western Towns Say No to Developers

Oct. 12 via The Pew Charitable Trusts.

In the small city of Oakley, Utah, the drought conditions parching much of the West have depleted the natural springs that supply water to the community. During each of the past several summers, local leaders worried that quenching any major fire might empty the city’s water tanks.

Read more here.

The West’s historic drought in 3 maps

Oct. 11 via Mercury News.

A vast majority of California is currently in extreme or exceptional drought, the two most severe categories. Across the West, drought has strained water resources.

Read more here.

Western Farmers and Ranchers Cope with Drought and Look for a Way Forward

Oct. 8 via American Farm Bureau Federation.

Farmers and ranchers often deal with the uncontrollable factor of the weather, and this year Mother Nature has been on a relentless scorched earth campaign in the West. 

Read more here.

Audubon's Jennifer Pitt Testifies Before U.S. Senate on Drought & Water Supply Impacts on Wildlife

Oct. 7 via WWD.

The testimony encompasses the western drought and water conservation efforts, as well as its impact on birds and their habitats.

Read more here.

The Colorado River is drying up. Here’s how that affects Indigenous water rights

Oct. 6 via Grist.

"The basin is free-riding off of undeveloped tribal water rights."

Read more here. 

Study Looks at the Impact of Drought in the West on Water Supplies

Oct. 5 via WWD. 

Researchers examined four decades’ worth of water samples from the Snake River in Colorado.

Read more here.

River District report highlights Western Slope concerns with state water-savings plan

Oct. 4 via Skyhinews.

The Glenwood Springs-based River District undertook its own investigation of a plan — known as demand management — that would pay water users to consume less and send the saved water downstream to Lake Powell. 

Read more here. 

Could LA water recycling be a miracle for parched West?

Sept. 28 via E&E News.

With severe drought strangling the West, the country’s largest water provider has embarked on a multibillion-dollar project that could help them cope with increasingly frequent shortages exacerbated by climate change.

Read more here.

The Future Of Water In The U.S. West Is Uncertain, So Planning And Preparedness Are Critical

Sept. 27 via Ensia.

Water authorities in the Western U.S. don’t know what the future will bring, but they are working collaboratively and with scientific rigor to make sure they’re prepared for anything.

Read more here.

La Niña is about to take the Southwest drought from bad to worse 

Sept. 24 via CNN.

Global scientists reported in August that due to the climate crisis, droughts that may have occurred only once every decade or so now happen 70% more frequently. 

Read more.

As California’s drought deepens, water use drops only 1.8%

Sept. 23 via Cal Matters.

Californians reduced their water use at home by a meager 1.8% statewide in July compared to last year, even after Gov. Gavin Newsom urged residents to conserve 15% and drought continues to spread across the state. 

Read more here.

Americans are moving to a region plagued by a 22-year drought

Sept. 22 via The Economist.

"Weather was the ultimate arbiter in the American West,” Marc Reisner wrote in “Cadillac Desert”, his book on water there, published in 1986. 

Read more here.

A 1,000-year drought is hitting the West: Could desalination be a solution?

Sept. 21 via Phys.org

The United States and many other parts of the world are reeling under the impacts of severe drought. One possible solution is the desalination of seawater, but is it a silver bullet?

Read more here.

Google to Replenish 20% More Water Than it Uses by 2030

Sept. 20 via WWD

Google aims to replenish 20% more water than its offices and data centers use by 2030, according to Google Chief Sustainability Officer Kate Brandt in a blog post.

Read more here.

Drought haves, have-nots test how to share water in the West

Sept. 17 via Seattle Times

In this swath of central Oregon, where six irrigation districts rely on the Deschutes River, the consequences of the strict hierarchy dictated by the American West’s arcane water law — “first in time, first in right” — are written on the land. As drought ravages the West, the districts with century-old water claims are first in line for the scarce resource while others nearby with more recent claims have already run out.

“It’s like the Wizard of Oz. … It’s shocking the difference,” said Matt Lisignoli, a farmer who got nearly five times more water on his land in one irrigation district than on fields in another.

“I’ve learned more about water in the last two months than I have in the last 20 years, because it’s always been here,” he said. “You don’t know until you get in a bind.”

Read more here.

Professor Part of Massive Field Lab Researching Global Warming's Impact on Water Sources

Sept. 16 via Newswise

At a time when a drought is affecting the 40 million people who rely on the Colorado River system, Indiana University professor Travis O'Brien and a team of scientific colleagues are embarking on a monumental U.S. Department of Energy project to better predict the future of water availability in the West.

Read more here.

California's Climate Crisis: Droughts & Major Wildfires Are the 'New Normal'

Sept. 15 via Fox News

"We have to stop thinking about drought is an emergency that only happens once in a while and we respond to it as a rare event, but recognize that this is becoming the new norm and we need to shift water management approaches that say we have a new normal now and we have to manage things differently," California Direction of Water Resources Interstate Resources Manager Jeanine Jones told Fox News.

Read more here.

Can the Food Sector Survive the Water Crisis?

Sept. 14 via Sustainable Brands

The IPCC report released last month painted a harrowing picture of the continuing climate crisis, but also delivered dire news for the related water crisis. In a significant departure from the last report released in 2013, the latest models indicate that many of the droughts we are seeing can be highly correlated with human activity. Not only that, but these droughts are actually getting worse — bringing heat as well as lack of water.

Read more here.

Fresno County towns with no drinking water drown in debt while hope fades for new well

September 13 via Fresno Bee

The longer it takes for two new wells to be dug in Cantua Creek and El Porvenir in western Fresno County, the deeper in debt the towns are mired.

Now, with the drought, those well projects are in a race against dropping groundwater levels as farmers, cut off from surface water supplies, are leaning more heavily on the aquifer.

Read more here.

Dixie Fire updates: Blaze explodes overnight as battle to save Old Station, Hat Creek continues

September 10 via Record Searchlight

The monster blaze is close to costing $500 million in firefighting efforts to suppress it, the most of any other fire this season, according to figures posted Thursday by the National Coordination Interagency Center. The July 13 fire is California's second largest wildfire of all time but only by a difference of less than 100,000 acres.

Read more here.

Rare earth elements and old mines spell trouble for Western water supplies

Sept. 8 via Science Daily.

The study is the first to look at how rare earth elements move within a watershed that is rich in minerals. It is also the first to investigate how climate change, by altering stream flow and natural weathering processes, is releasing more rare earth elements into streams.

Read more here. 

Prized trout streams shrink as heat, drought grip US West

Sept. 7 via AP News.

The North Platte River in southern Wyoming has been so low in places lately that a toddler could easily wade across and thick mats of olive-green algae grow in the lazy current.

Read more here.

Drought-Hit Blue Mesa Reservoir Losing 8 Feet Of Water To Save Lake Powell. A Western Slope Marina Feels The Pain

Sept. 3 via Colorado Public Radio.

People wait in line at Elk Creek Marina to back their trailers into the water to pull their boats out of the lake. Some, like Walter Swetkoff, are frustrated. Swetkoff and his wife have sailed Blue Mesa Reservoir outside of Gunnison, Colo., for more than 30 years. The National Park Service told everyone who stores their boats at the marina they had 10 days to get out of the water because of the drought. 

Read more here.

Polis And Other Western US Governors Urge Biden To Declare A Federal Drought Disaster

Sept. 2 via Colorado Public Radio.

Gov. Jared Polis and governors from nine other western states are urging the Biden administration to declare a federal drought disaster across the western U.S. The bipartisan letter requesting federal aid says that without more funding, it will take years for agricultural communities to recover from drought, heat and catastrophic wildfires.

Read more here.

Sept. 1 via New York Times.

The severe drought that has gripped much of the western half of the United States in spring and summer is likely to continue at least into late fall, government forecasters said Thursday.

Read more here.

U.S. Ramps Up Wild Horse Roundups In Drought-Stricken West

Aug. 31 via NPR

Wild Horses are dying from dehydration during the severe Western drought. Now, the federal government is planning to save them by rounding up thousands and adopting them out across the country.

Read more here. 

Colorado SAIL Observatory to Observe U.S. Western Water Shortage

Aug. 30 via WWD.

According to Berkeley Laboratory expert and on-site researcher Ken Williams, the SAIL observatory will face challenges in predicting the west coast water supply.

Read more here.

As the West bakes, Utah forges ahead with water pipeline

Aug. 26 via E&E.

As drought and climate change strangle the Colorado River, a small county in Utah nevertheless continues forging ahead with a billion-dollar pipeline to suck more water from it to sustain its growing population.

Read more here. 

Western lawmakers call on Biden, FEMA to declare drought disaster

Aug. 25 via NBC.

Congressional leaders are calling on President Joe Biden to declare a drought disaster in the West as record temperatures and historic wildfires batter multiple states.

Read more here.

What is the Drought's Effect on Western U.S. Water Resources?

Aug. 24 via WWD.

Droughts in the Western U.S. make headlines worldwide, posing particular challenges for people living and working in the affected regions. Here’s a close examination of the effects of drought on available water resources. 

Read more here.

Opinion: This is how western states must change because of the Colorado River water shortage

Aug. 24 via Market Watch.

The U.S. government announced its first-ever water shortage declaration for the Colorado River on Aug. 16, triggering future cuts in the amount of water states will be allowed to draw from the river.

Read more here.

West Nile virus: another alarming side effect of US drought

Aug. 23 via The Guardian.

Stagnant water caused by dry weather gives mosquitoes – the insect that spreads the virus – free rein, leading to an increased risk for humans.

Read more here. 

The West’s megadrought is so bad, authorities are airlifting water for animals

Aug. 20 via VOX. 

The 20-plus-year drought in the American West hit a new extreme this week as the US government declared a water shortage on the Colorado River for the first time in history.

Read more here. 

Booming Colorado town asks, ‘Where will water come from?’

Aug. 19 via PBS. 

The problem for the northern Colorado town that bears the 19th-century newspaper editor’s name: Too many people have heeded his advice.

Read more here. 

Bureau of Reclamation Announces First-Ever Water Shortage in Lake Mead, Colorado River

Aug. 18 via WWD.

The federal government declared a water shortage at Lake Mead, one of Colorado River’s main reservoirs.

Read more here.

Climate Change Hits Sushi Supply Chain Amid California Water War

Aug. 17 via Bloomberg.

If you’ve eaten sushi anywhere in the U.S., chances are the rice came from California’s Sacramento Valley. Fritz Durst, a sixth-generation farmer, has grown the grain and other crops there for more than four decades. But this year, amid a historic drought, Durst is planting only half as many acres of rice as usual.

Read more here.

Gov. Polis requests FEMA disaster help with drought in Western states

Aug 16 via KDVR.

Governor Jared Polis and other Western state governors are requesting the Biden administration issue a FEMA disaster declaration for the drought issue plaguing the Western states.

Read more here.

California Farm Bureau Reports National Ag, Water Coalition Applauds Senate Passage of Infrastructure Bill

Aug 12 via Sierra Sun Times.

With nearly two-thirds of the West experiencing extreme or exceptional drought conditions, and more than 90 active wildfires burning across the U.S., a national coalition representing thousands of Western farmers, ranchers, water providers, businesses and communities underscored the significance of Senate passage of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on Tuesday and urged the House to mirror the water provisions in its own infrastructure package.

Read more here.

First Water Reduction in Western US Supply to Hammer Arizona Farmers

Aug 11 via Pennsylvania News Today.

A harvester rushes through the fields in the early morning light, cutting rows of corn and chopping ears, shells, and stems to root for feeding with local dairy products.

Read more here.

Lake Powell’s declining water levels affecting residents on the Western Slope

Aug 10 via Western Slope Now.

The Colorado River is flowing below normal. It has officials worried.

Andy Mueller, with Colorado River District, says, “bottom line, for every one degree the Fahrenheit rises in temperature, we are seeing streamflow in the Colorado River System be reduced somewhere between 3 to 8%.”

Read more here.

California Shuts Down Major Hydroelectric Plant Due to Low Water Levels at Lake Oroville

Aug 9 via WWD.

California shut down a major hydroelectric power plant at Lake Oroville due to water levels falling near the minimum necessary to generate power.

Read more here.

California Water Board Blocks Farmers from Diverting Water from Delta Watershed 

Aug 5 via WWD.

Water users who continue to divert could face penalties of up to $1,000 per day and $2,500 per acre-foot of illegally diverted water.

Read more here. 

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].

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