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article imageDrought conditions set to intensify in U.S. Southwest

By Karen Graham     May 23, 2018 in Environment
Rivers are drying up, popular mountain recreation spots are closing and water restrictions are in full swing as a persistent drought intensifies its grip on pockets of the American Southwest.
Climatologists and other experts are supposed to give an update on the situation sometime today for what is called the Four Corners region — where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet. The area is dealing with "exceptional drought," the worst category, according to NOAA climatologists.
To be more specific, the most drought-stricken region of the U.S. remains the southern Plains, southern Rockies, and Southwest. The highest drought intensity, (exceptional drought), can be found across the Oklahoma Panhandle, Texas Panhandle, southwest Kansas, northern New Mexico, as well as the Four Corners Region.
The situation today has left farmers, ranchers and water planners in a much worse place then they were just a year ago when only a small part of the region was experiencing low levels of drought.
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U.S. Drought Monitor
Regional water sources strained
The federal government is already applying pressure to get states in the Southwest to wrap up long-delayed emergency plans for potential shortages on the Colorado River, which serves some 40 million people in the U.S. and Mexico. Unbelievable as it may seem, an emergency plan of action has yet to be agreed upon by the seven states that rely on the river’s water.
"We face an overwhelming risk on the system, and the time for action is now," Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said Tuesday, reports Western Mass News. She spoke before the Imperial Irrigation District in Southern California, one of the biggest single users of the Colorado River.
Burman pointed out the drought has hit the Colorado River hard, and forecasters are saying the river will carry only about 43 percent of its average amount of water this year into Lake Powell, one of two big reservoirs on the system. The other reservoir, Lake Mead is now at about 38 percent of capacity.
The decline in water elevation has exposed a white band of mineralized rock around the shoreline. Th...
The decline in water elevation has exposed a white band of mineralized rock around the shoreline. The declining reservoir level has also exposed portions of Hoover Dam’s four intake towers, two on the right side and two on the left side. These intake towers channel water from Lake Mead into penstocks that serve Hoover Dam's 17 hydroelectric generators.
Department of the Interior
There is already a better than even chance that Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada will have to take a mandatory cut in their water allocations by 2020 under the agreements governing the river.
But it isn't only the weather and lack of snowpack and rains that have created the situation with the water supply. The Bureau of Reclamation’s Zane Boyster cites the dividing up of the waters of the Colorado River by water managers in the 1920s as part of the overall problem.
As Boyster explained it, the agreement was done when there was an over-abundance of water flowing in the river due to an unusually wet rainy period for the Colorado River. “That’s right, we over-allocated the water from the very beginning,” he says. “We’re still tasked with honoring those same water contracts even today. Basically, we’re forced to write checks we can’t cash.”
Rio Grande Bend near Boquillas Canyon (Big Bend National Park  Texas.
Rio Grande Bend near Boquillas Canyon (Big Bend National Park, Texas.
Glysiak
The Rio Grande River is already drying up
In New Mexico, parts of the Rio Grande have already gone dry as federal biologists have been forced to scoop up as many endangered Rio Grande silvery minnows as possible so they can be moved upstream, according to ABC News.
This summer, the Rio Grande is expected to dry up as far north as Albuquerque, New Mexico's most populous city. And like the Colorado River, the Rio Grande is embroiled in a water management dispute that has been languishing before the U.S. Supreme Court since 2013.
The Supreme Court case is between New Mexico and the state of Texas and the federal government over which jurisdiction bears a responsibility to ensure proper allocation and accounting of water in the region.
However the allocation battles for water rights play out, an answer will be needed soon, especially as the present drought conditions are expected to go on for some time. And this story is also a reminder that just because this is the United States, it doesn't mean that we are immune to having a water crisis. And when it does hit, it will be a doozie.
More about Drought, US Southwest, intensifying, Water shortages, Colorado river
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