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Preparing for Droughts

Water plays a crucial role in the survival of living things. Where there is water, there is life.

  • Farmers warn that the mega-drought in the Western U.S. threatens to cause devastating crop failures.

  • Scientists predict historic dry summer for much of the U.S.

  • California has seen 900 more wildfires than at this point in 2020.

  • Extreme drought conditions declared

  • Western drought could trigger a volatile U.S. summer.

  • 84% of U.S. West plunged into dangerous drought

At the end of January 2021, severe to extreme drought affected about 28% of the contiguous United States based on the Palmer Drought Index. By the end of March 2021, almost half of the United States experienced some level of drought. It was expected to worsen in upcoming months.

According to , drought conditions continued into spring 2021. Experts predict that the dry conditions will strain water supplies and have dire effects on the environment, such as increased susceptibility to fire during summer.

Decreasing water levels of lakes and reservoirs during droughts.
Decreasing water levels of lakes and reservoirs during droughts.

The U.S. Drought Monitor includes measurements of climate, soil, and water conditions from more than 350 federal, state, and local observers around the country. NASA provides measurements and models to add to this monitoring effort.

Due to the extent of damages and the number of people involved, drought is the number one natural catastrophe. Drought is severe when the average farming production decreases by 10% and is catastrophic when it decreases by over 30%.

The hardest hit areas are Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico. These states had an exceptional drought, which developed in 2020 and persisted through winter.

Another measurement by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) satellites measures soil surface moisture. Much of the West is below historical averages due to an absence of winter storms and below average snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. California closed out its fifth consecutive month with below-average rain.

What factors contribute to drought?

Many factors cause the increase in drought:

  1. Rainfall is less than usual for a period of weeks to years

  2. Land temperatures which evaporate water moisture from the soil

  3. Air circulation and weather patterns

  4. Soil moisture levels

  5. Supply and demand of water

  6. Proper collection and storage of water

As temperatures increase, more water evaporates and severe weather conditions also increase. Landscapes and crops need more water and the overall demand for water increases. It is essential to consider changes when discussing water savings. You may need to change the amount of water you use depending on weather conditions.

Soil moisture levels deplete when there is less evaporation of water to create clouds. More water is needed and less is available contributing to a more severe drought. The only way a drought can end is with enough regular soaking rains or significant snow. Rains that soak into the soil can replenish the groundwater. Groundwater provides water to plants and can refill streams during non-rainy periods. One soaking of rain may help improve drought conditions but multiple showers of rains over several months are needed to truly return things to normal.

When a region is growing rapidly, the water demand can exceed the supply. Weather conditions and air patterns push a region toward a drought when the demand for water worsens the situation. Excessive irrigation is an example of people contributing to drought.

Proper collection and storage of water are key to balance the cycle and requires human management.

Severe droughts impact the migration of people. People will move to where there is more water.

What problems are caused by droughts?

Droughts impact society in many ways. They include:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Economic losses

  • Conflicts

  • Reduced incomes

  • Fewer recreational activities

  • Higher incidents of heat stroke

  • Loss of human life

A lack of water causes the dispersion of solid particles into the atmosphere causing sand storms and air pollution. There is a negative impact on man’s health, reducing farming and breeding production, malnutrition and hunger, migrations of people, and wars.

Dry periods have become more frequent and more intense over the last few decades. This tendency to drought has affected the dry or half-dry areas of Africa and Asia and the ild and northern countries.

How can you prepare for the imminent drought?

  1. Purchase bottled water often - put a blanket over it to protect it from light

  2. Store water in gallon jugs with a few drops of bleach

  3. Keep water for sanitation purposes

  4. Obtain 5 gallon jugs from the local military surplus store

  5. Keep water in cool dry places for six months and then rotate out

  6. Rain collection into a large barrel

  7. Obtain water purification pills and straws

  8. Conserve water - turn off water when you aren’t using it, shorter showers, water-saving appliances

How can we personally conserve water during a drought?

  • Fix dripping faucets

  • Check all plumbing for leaks and repair

  • Install instant hot water heater on your sink

  • Insulate water pipes to reduce heat loss

  • Install water-softening system and turn off while on vacation

  • Choose energy efficient appliances

  • Avoid flushing the toilet unnecessarily.

  • Replace showered with ultra-low-flow version

  • Instead of using garbage disposal, throw food into the garbage or start a compost pile.

  • Take short showers instead of baths

  • Avoid letting the water run while

There are many more ways you can help conserve water during a drought.

How do we compare droughts over time?

To get historical data about past dry years, scientists can also look at tree rings from trees that are hundreds of years old. The thickness of tree rings can tell scientists about historical droughts over the hundreds of years of a tree’s life. There is information on the thickness of each ring. Thick rings mean the tree grew faster due to plentiful water. indicating a wetter year. Scientists don’t have to cut down a tree to see the rings. They can insert a hollow drill into the trunk and pull out a cylindrical sample with the rings included.

A recent study showed that 2000-2018 was the driest period in the U.S. Southwest since the late 1500s. Experts feel the current event fits the pattern of a long mega-drought episode that has lasted over the past two decades.

What are the effects of desertification (land turning into a desert)?

  • Loss of productivity of the soil

  • Degradation of the vegetal covering - all the way through to disappearing

  • Dispersion of solid participles with a negative impact on human health and productivity

  • Reduction of farming

  • Migration of people and wars

How important is groundwater?

Groundwater is one of the nation’s most critical natural resources. It is the source of about 33 percent of the water that county and city water departments supply to households and public supply. It provides drinking water for more than 90 percent of the rural population who do not get their water delivered from a private company. Some major cities, such as San Antonio, Texas, rely solely on groundwater for all their needs.

Groundwater is an especially important natural resource in parts of the country that don’t have ample surface-water sources, such as the arid West. It often takes more work and costs more to access groundwater as opposed to surface water, but where there is little water on the land surface, groundwater can supply the water needs of people.

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