U.S. Drought Concerns
In the U.S., a mostly dry, mild winter has caused 48 of 50 states to be considered abnormally dry or having drought conditions according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The Drought Monitor ranks the intensity of a drought with five levels, starting with “abnormally dry (D0)” as the lowest recognized level of drought to “exceptional drought (D4)” as the highest level. Ohio and Alaska are the only two states unaffected by these dry conditions. The New England region, which rarely experiences drought conditions, has recently been experiencing a period of dryness. The U.S. Geological Survey states that stream flow levels are at record or near-record lows in much of New England.
The Drought Monitor lists Vermont as “abnormally dry”, coincidently just six months after the state’s wettest August on record (mainly caused by the effects of Hurricane Irene). Connecticut encountered its driest January-March period ever on record according to Weather Channel meteorologist Jonathan Erdman. While water shortages are not feared in the region, other parts of the country are already facing a crisis.
The South Florida Water Management District has already issued a water shortage warning from Key West to Orlando. Georgia, considered the state suffering most, has been given the Drought Monitor’s “exceptional” and “extreme” ratings for dry conditions. Winter rains gave Eastern Texas some relief-resulting in a change from 100% drought conditions across the state to only 64% of the state. California is also bracing for a water shortage approaching. The state’s Department of Water Resources said that mountain snowpack, a major source of water, is 45% below normal for this year.
As drought conditions reduce the supply of water, the increased demand for water has been exacerbating the problem. A study from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography gives Lake Mead, a source of water for millions in the Southwest U.S., a 50-50 chance of drying up by 2021. There is a calculated deficit of nearly 1 million acre-feet of water per year depleting the Colorado River system-the supplier of water to Lake Mead, Lake Powell, and 22 million people in the Southwest. Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Diego are just a few of the cities and towns that might be scrambling for an alternative water supply in the coming years.
This would not only affect water supply, but power generation as well. The study estimates that there is a 50 percent chance that reservoir levels will drop too low to generate hydroelectric power generation by 2017. The combination of drought and increased water demand will continue to pose a problem for city planners and leaders in the coming years, especially in the Southwestern U.S.