Western U.S. in Water Distress

Jun 29, 2021

Western states are feeling the heat as drought concerns hit all-time highs.

California posted its driest ever 12-month period, while 90% of the American West is suffering from some level of drought conditions.

Deja vu: 2012-2017 was another period of severe drought in the West. Experts say shifts in storm patterns and increases in global temps are making long dry periods more common.

Some even question if it’s not so much a drought… and more a new permanent state of being.

Tough choices: The region’s growers have few easy options. They’re reducing production acres, planting crops closer, and balancing scarce livestock feed and water supplies. Water is being diverted from annual crops (tomatoes, melons) to vineyard and orchard crops that are a longer-term investment.

Some are already culling cows and ripping up almond trees earlier than planned.

Dire consequences: Drought conditions can stoke deadly wildfires and drive wild predators to desperate behaviors. Farmworkers worry they’ll be out of work as production declines. And producers wonder about the long-term sustainability of their operations in the region.

Concerns of inflation and food scarcity are also out there. Looking back, the 2014-2015 drought cost California ag operations roughly $5 billion and 20,000 lost jobs.

#MoreDamStorage: While it doesn’t solve near-term problems, many are lobbying for new dams to capture winter floodwaters that current dams can’t capture. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack notes that current systems aren’t designed for decade-long ongoing drought situations, and more support is needed for farmers facing climate risks.