The monitor reported that more than 98% in the Southwest are in drought this week. It noted that reservoir storage levels in all Western States, except Washington, were below-normal.
In California, which is entirely in drought conditions, two of the state’s largest reservoirs — Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville — are at “critically low levels,” according to the monitor.
“This crisis is unprecedented. This is unprecedented,” Adel Hagekhalil (general manager, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California) said. “We have never done something like this before. And because we haven’t seen this happen before, we don’t have enough to meet the normal water needs of the six millions people who live in the State Water Project dependent zones.”
California is not the only state suffering from a drought-driven water crisis. The Rio Grande Basin’s Elephant Butte Reservoir is approximately 13% full. According to the US Bureau of Reclamation Lake Powell was 24% full in the Colorado River Basin while Lake Mead was 31%.
Wildfires that were sparked by drought
According to the US Drought Monitor, “In California and Southwest, conditions were dry during this week with strong winds observed throughout the region.” “The dry, windy conditions have exacerbated fire weather conditions in Arizona and New Mexico, where large early-season wildfires are currently affecting the region.”
New Mexico saw the most drastic increase in drought severity, extreme and extraordinary. This added over 14,000 square miles, nearly twice the area of New Jersey, to the worst classifications.
The fires forced the evacuation of thousands, with large areas of the state being under severe fire threat.
Elsewhere, nearly a quarter of Texas is now in exceptional drought — the most severe category — which is the largest area for the state since 2014. This situation will only get worse as Texas faces an early-season heat wave, which the state’s power provider ERCOT warns will cause strain on the region’s power grid.
The drought summary showed some improvements in drought, including in Oregon, where there were reductions in all four drought designations due to recent storms.
Scientists believe that the West’s multi-year-old drought is a clear indicator of how climate change is affecting not just the weather but also communities’ water supply, food production, and livelihoods.
The current conditions is particularly worrisome for many, considering it is only spring season — and summertime heat may worsen conditions. As the planet heats, extreme heat and drought will also fuel wildfires that can cause water shortages.