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Drought

California drought: Newsom orders tighter water conservation rules

As drought worsens, Californians face most far-reaching water conservation rules since 2016.

By PAUL ROGERS | progers@bayareanewsgroup.com | Bay Area News Group

PUBLISHED: March 28, 2022 at 2:00 p.m. | UPDATED: March 28, 2022 at 3:08 p.m.

With the winter rainy season almost over and California heading into a third year of severe drought, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday ordered water agencies around the state to tighten water conservation rules.

The move is the most far-reaching statewide water restriction since 2016, during California’s last drought. “While we have made historic investments to protect our communities, economy and ecosystems from the worsening drought across the West, it is clear we need to do more,” Newsom said. “Today, I am calling on local water agencies to implement more aggressive water conservation measures.”

But Newsom did not issue mandatory statewide water cuts with fines for water districts and cities that fall short, as former Gov. Jerry Brown did in 2015 during the previous drought. Rather, Newsom’s order lets each local water provider set its own rules. “What we learned from the last drought is that it’s really important to listen to locals,” said Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of the California EPA. “We live in a state that has many different hydrological zones and water usage scenarios. The one size fits all doesn’t really work.” Newsom signed an executive order Monday requiring the state’s roughly 420 largest water providers, including cities, water districts and private water companies to put in place “level 2” of their water shortage contingency plans.

Under state law, water providers are required to draw up such drought plans every five years, with six different levels of restrictions depending on the severity of each drought. Level 6 is the most severe. Newsom signed an executive order Monday requiring the state’s roughly 400 largest water providers, including cities, water districts and private water companies to put in place “level 2” of their water shortage contingency plans. Level 2 varies by provider. But in most cases, it requires limits on the number of days a week that residents can irrigate landscaping, and sets an overall water reduction target, usually in the 10% to 20% range. In some areas, level 2 also triggers higher rates or penalties for residents who use more than a set amount of water, depending on the local rules in each community.

The specifics for each water provider are expected to be rolled out in the coming weeks. East Bay Municipal Utility District, which serves 1.4 million people in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, is currently at Level 1 in its plan, which allows lawn watering three days a week. But San Jose Water Company, which serves 1 million people in the South Bay, already is at level 3, which limits lawn watering to two days a week and sets higher rates-per gallon for customers who use the most water. Newsom also on Monday directed state regulators to issue rules to prohibit watering decorative grass at industrial and commercial buildings. Those rules, whose specifics will be written by the State Water Resources Control Board in the coming weeks, will not affect residential lawns, or recreational turf, such as baseball and soccer fields at parks and schools.

Newsom has been facing increasing calls to do more to address California’s worsening drought, which climate experts are saying has become as severe as the state’s punishing 2012-16 drought, which is likely to bring another severe summer fire season this year. Most of California’s biggest reservoirs are depleted after three dry years, and little rain is expected for at least seven months, until next fall. The largest reservoir in California, Shasta, near Redding, is currently just 38% full. The second largest, Oroville, in Butte County, is 47% full.

The Sierra Nevada snowpack — the source of nearly one-third of California’s drinking water — hit 168% of normal on New Year’s Day after big storms in October and December. But with almost no rain and snow since then, the snowpack Monday had fallen to a dismal 39% of its historical average for that date. Major cities and farm areas across California have seen sunny, warmer-than-normal weather in January, February and March, during what should be the wettest months of the year, a trend that scientists say is worsening due to climate change. Despite Sunday night’s rain, March also will finish with below-average rain and snow.

Overall, 93% of California is in a severe drought now — up from 65% a year ago, including every Bay Area county and Los Angeles, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly report put out by the federal government and the University of Nebraska. And 37% of the state is worse off, in “extreme drought,” up from 31% a year ago. Those areas include the Central Valley and much of the North Coast, from Sonoma County to Humboldt County. Last July, Newsom declared a drought emergency and asked urban California residents to voluntarily reduce water use 15% from 2020 levels. They have missed that target by a wide margin.

Cumulatively, Californians reduced urban water use statewide by just 6.4% from July through January — less than half of Newsom’s target — compared to the same time period in 2020, the State Water Resources Control Board announced earlier this month. Southern Californians cut back by only 5.1% while Bay Area residents reduced by 11%. The trend has been heading in the wrong direction. In January, due in large part to people watering lawns during the dry sunny weather, the state’s residents increased water use 2.6% compared to January 2020, boosting calls by many water experts for Newsom to turn to mandatory measures to preserve reservoir levels. But some large water agencies have pushed back, urging Newsom to allow them more flexibility. Some say they have built new reservoirs or expanded water recycling, or in the case of San Diego, built a $1 billion desalination plant, and shouldn’t have the same restrictions as agency’s that have not done enough to boost supplies. Water agencies also lose millions of dollars when residents conserve due to a drop in water sales, unless they raise rates.

During California’s last drought, from 2012 to 2016, former Gov. Jerry Brown at first issued a voluntary call for conservation. But when Californians failed to meet his targets and the drought worsened, Brown issued a 25% mandatory urban water use rule on April 1, 2015, with targets and fines for agencies that failed to meet the goal, as he stood in a bare meadow in the Sierra Nevada that historically would have been covered with snow. The rules worked. Between June 2015 and April 2016, when mandatory rules were in effect, urban Californians cut water use by 24.5%. That drought ended in 2017 with a series of huge atmospheric river storms. Since then, after modest precipitation in 2018 and 2019, the three most recent years 2020, 2021 and 2022 have all been drier-than-normal.

Droughts, Explained

by Narimes Parakul | Jan 18, 2022 | Aggie LifeAgricultureEnvironmentFall/Winter 2021-22

Drought is back in California. Samuel Sandoval Solis, an associate professor at UC Davis and UC Cooperative Extension specialist, is an expert in water resources management who aims to create better strategies for coping with droughts. Here, he answers some common questions and clarifies some myths about droughts.

What is a drought? A drought is a prolonged period of water shortage. For the past two years, California has been experiencing a meteorological drought, which results from a year of below-average rainfall.

This year, the state is also faced with hydrological and agricultural droughts. A hydrological drought refers to when the lack of precipitation affects rivers and aquifers. Due to above-average rainfall two years ago, reservoirs filled higher in the first year of the drought. Currently, the reservoirs are empty and unable to supplement river flow, thus raising a new issue of a hydrological drought.

An agricultural drought is mostly related to food production, and in 2020, the state lacked enough water to keep agricultural soil wet. While this shortage was covered by water releases from reservoirs last year, reservoirs and aquifers are both severely lacking water this year.

Myth #1: The drought is not my problem.

Drought is everyone’s problem. On average, water use in California is 50 percent environmental, 40 percent agricultural and 10 percent urban, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. But reducing usage will fall to everyone, Sandoval Solis said. “Unfortunately this rhetoric of ‘people who use more water are the only ones responsible for cutting their water use’ is not beneficial. All of us can contribute; all of us should feel that we are part of the problem, and thus part of the solution,” Sandoval Solis said.

He added that everyone can be mindful of indoor water usage and try to save water. For outdoor usage, make sure your irrigation system is not wasting water, and select what part of your landscape you want to protect (such as trees) and what part is expendable (such as ornamentals).

Myth #2: California will never run out of water because it borders the ocean.

Some proposed solutions include using ocean water to supplement the lack of water in the drought. However, this is not a viable option. “It is very expensive, it will pollute the oceans, and it is not sustainable,” Sandoval Solis said.

Myth #3: We need more dams.

“Dams don’t make water. The dams that we need are already built. We just need to manage them better,” said Sandoval Solis.

Myth #4: We need more regulation.

Approved in 2012, Assembly Bill 685 states that every person in California has the right to clean, affordable water. However, approximately 1 million Californians currently live without water, and 10 million Californians are at risk. “We don’t need more regulations; we need to better execute the ones we already have,” Sandoval Solis said. The ineffective implementation of current policies has resulted in entire communities living without water for months, sometimes years.

In fact, he added, with this drought, many of those who ran out of water last time will face the same issue again. “It also depends on systematic advantages or disadvantages,” Sandoval Solis said. “Some of these communities are the ones with the lowest incomes.”

No, California’s drought isn’t over. Here’s why.

BY RACHEL BECKERJANUARY 4, 2022

California today issued emergency drought rules aimed at wasteful water use. Although snowpack is 150% of average today, climatologists predict dry conditions for the rest of the season. And conservation still lags. In a clear sign that the drought persists, California today adopted new emergency regulations aimed at stopping residents from wasting the state’s precious water. The rules ban practices such as hosing down sidewalks and driveways with drinking water, washing cars without a shutoff nozzle on the hose and irrigating lawns and gardens too soon after rain.

Approved unanimously by the State Water Resources Control Board, the mandates could take effect as soon as Jan. 15 and have a one-year expiration date unless extended. Fines can reach as high as $500, but enforcement will be spotty: Local governments and water agencies are allowed to enforce them at their discretion, and they will largely be complaint-based. California’s drought is not over despite a bounty of snowfall and rain over the past month: California’s snowpack — a critical source of water — is 150% of average for Jan. 4. But with three months left of the wet season, it’s not enough to bring an end to the severe drought and water shortages. California still needs about another foot of snowpack by the end of March to reach its historic seasonal average, according to the state data. Almost 16 inches had accumulated by today. “December alone will not end the drought, clearly,” said Jeanine Jones, interstate resources manager for the Department of Water Resources. “December was wonderful, but now we just hope it keeps on going.”

The amount of water now stored is actually worse than last year at this time: The state’s reservoirs in December were projected to contain about 78% of average — compared to about 82% in 2020. Moderate to exceptional drought still grips the entire state, and a soggy start to the rainy season does not guarantee even an average water year. California has felt that false hope before: In 2013, during the last record-breaking drought, a wet December turned into a dry January and February. “After we get through this weather system this week, things go dry. And the expectations are a drier than average January, February and March,” said California’s state climatologist Michael Anderson.

And conservation still lags. California Gov. Gavin Newsom in July called for Californians to voluntarily cut water use by 15% in the face of the ongoing drought. But state officials today announced statewide savings of only 6% from July to November compared to last year. November, a dry month, saw only a 6.8% reduction in water use — down from 13.3% in October, which saw torrential rains. The greatest savings came from the northern half of the state; water use increased slightly by 0.8% in Southern California.

“You want to kiss every snowflake and every raindrop that comes down, because it was just so bad,” said Felicia Marcus, who chaired the State Water Resources Control Board under Gov. Jerry Brown during the last drought. “At the same time, we’ve got to exercise our efficiency muscles every way we can, all the time.” Similar restrictions on wasteful water use were temporarily enacted during the last drought under former Governor Jerry Brown, who also issued a statewide water conservation mandate. In October, Newsom instructed regulators at the State Water Resources Control Board to consider once again barring wasteful water uses when he extended the drought emergency statewide.

The emergency rules adopted today take aim at residents as well as homeowners associations, which can no longer penalize residents for brown lawns and drought-tolerant landscaping plants. Local governments may no longer use drinking water to irrigate ornamental turf on street medians.The new rules do not affect agriculture, the leading user of water in California. And both public commenters and board member Laurel Firestone raised concerns about how penalties could affect low-income Californians — spurring the board to add new language requiring warnings and fees based on the recipient’s ability to pay.

“This is not the most effective, or even in my mind appropriate policy approach to save water when we’re in a drought emergency,” said board member Laurel Firestone, who called for a more systemic approach rather than individual penalties. “Unfortunately, like in the last drought, we don’t have a more appropriate and effective policy developed that we go to in drought emergencies.” The state’s efforts to make permanent the emergency water waste rules enacted during the last drought faced opposition from powerful urban and agricultural water interests, and ultimately fizzled. But many local water agencies have already adopted their own rules.

Sacramento, for instance, has prohibited a number of wasteful water uses since 2017, including washing down sidewalks and irrigating so much that it overflows onto sidewalks or streets. The utilities department “takes an education-first approach to solving water waste by providing notices to residents before issuing any fines,” Carlos Eliason, a spokesperson for the department, said in an email. Fines, however, can be issued to repeat offenders, and the allowable amount has doubled due to the city’s “Water Alert,” currently ranging from $50 to $1,000. The East Bay Municipal Utility District also restricts certain wasteful water uses but hasn’t issued any fines over the past year, said spokesperson Tracie Morales.

“Most of our water waste investigations are resolved by reaching out to our customers and providing education and resources, without having to resort to enforcement,” Morales said. However, she said the district can “escalate to a formal warning letter letting them know that we may charge them for additional monitoring, and that we have the right to install a flow restrictor or even shut off their water.” “There is nothing that obligates us to take specific action and enforce” the state’s new regulations, Morales said. She added, however, that the district might consider updating its rules to more closely match the state’s wording.

Officials couldn’t say how much water the regulations adopted today are expected to save. Instead, they said, the focus is largely on educating consumers, rather than collecting fines. “I don’t believe that there were any fines of up to $500. There were, I believe, a small handful throughout the state of smaller fines after multiple levels of warnings and outreach,” said David Rose, senior staff counsel with the water board. “Mostly what the suppliers chose to do was to implement their own existing water waste or water use restrictions as opposed to the board’s regulation.” The timing of the decision after such a soggy start to the water year “wreaks havoc with messaging,” Marcus said. But it’s a change that she said she hopes will persist longer term — which would require a different regulatory process. “To me, these rules are sort of the least we can do. They’re primarily common sense.”

UC Davis Magazine

By Cody Kitaura – September 15, 2021 – Environment, Features, The Big Question

Who is to Blame for California’s Drought?

Social media users are playing the blame game when it comes to California’s drought. Read enough comments online and you’ll see many similar responses blaming the state government for its management of water: California should have more water storage. California dumps water into the ocean. Northern California sends too much water to Southern California. UC Davis experts said those assertions are incorrect.

“The characterization that this is just government malfeasance is wildly inaccurate and unfair, and misses the key points,” said Richard Frank, professor of environmental practice and director of the California Environmental Law and Policy Center at the UC Davis School of Law.

While some criticisms that appear frequently on social media have a basis in reality, others are completely untrue, Frank and other UC Davis experts said. They provided responses to common drought questions.

Why don’t we just build more dams?

Shouldn’t the state have seen the current drought coming and planned with more storage? Of course, more storage could help, but all the obvious places to build dams were turned into reservoirs years ago, Frank said. The state has more than 1,500 reservoirs, and each remaining additional option is more expensive and less effective than the last, he said.

Jay Lund, co-director for the Center for Watershed Sciences and a distinguished professor of civil and environmental engineering, agreed. “You can get some more water from building more reservoirs, but you don’t get much and it’s very expensive,” Lund said.

Besides, none of that matters when the storage we do have is running dry (Lake Oroville, the state’s second-largest reservoir, last month deactivated its hydroelectric power plant because of the low water levels for the first time ever), so we should work harder to conserve, Frank said.

“There’s not enough water to fill the existing water infrastructure,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of readjusting expectations among water users — we have to redouble our efforts to conserve and use water more efficiently.” He pointed to more efficient farm irrigation and drought-resistant urban landscaping as two possible ways to save more.

Lake Oroville was reduced to a mere trickle by drought in July 2021. Kelly M. Grow/California Department of Water Resources

Are we dumping water into the ocean?

Then-president Donald Trump made headlines in October when he said the state was wasting countless gallons of water by dumping it into the Pacific Ocean “to take care of certain little-tiny fish.”

The state does release water into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, an estuary where salt water from the sea mixes with fresh water from Sierra snowpack runoff. Water from the delta is used for irrigation and drinking water, and if too little freshwater is present, then seawater would fill the gaps.

“If you stopped allowing some fresh water to migrate, what you would have is salt water,” Frank said. “The water that is diverted would be salt water, and it would be unfit to drink and unfit to irrigate crops with.”

Water released into the delta also helps wildlife like endangered salmon, steelhead and others — but those animals are the first to suffer in a drought. “This year most of the salmon stocks are going to perish and not be able to spawn,” Frank said. Karrigan Börk, an associate director at the Center for Watershed Sciences and an acting professor at the School of Law, said droughts can do quick and lasting damage to wildlife populations.

“You can fallow a field for a year, but if fish are unsuccessful for a year, you can lose those populations pretty quickly,” he said. Lund said fish are likely suffering more than farmers and ranchers, who tend to have other options.

The completed temporary emergency drought barrier for the West False River in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Contra Costa County, July 2021. The 750-foot-wide rock barrier will help deter the tidal push of saltwater from San Francisco Bay into the central Delta.

Jonathan Wong/California Department of Water Resources

How can agriculture survive the drought?

California’s farmers and ranchers sold their products for more than $50 billion in 2019, but all that output comes at a high cost to the state’s water supply — 80 percent of all water use goes to ag, according to the state. Lund said farmers and ranchers should reduce their irrigated footprint, swapping out less profitable crops like corn, cotton and wheat for more valuable ones like grapes or almonds. “It’s going to be smaller in terms of acres, but it could easily be larger in terms of gross profits,” he said. “We’re still seeing a shift from low value crops to high value crops.”

A water marketplace could also help alleviate some of the tension between agricultural and urban water uses in the state, Börk said. Such a system would allow cities running low on water to “buy” water from farmers by paying them to leave fields fallow. “That could go a long way to mitigating problems in drought periods,” he said. One way or another, the agriculture industry will need to cut its water use, Frank said.

“I think what the [state] water board and most government regulators are saying is everybody is going to have to bear a share of the pain and cutbacks,” he said. “For those farmers and ranchers who think they have a right to the same level of water they used 20, 40, 50 years ago, they’re whistling past the graveyard.”

A wheel-line irrigation system running on an agricultural field in California. Steve Payer/California Department of Water Resources

Is it Southern California’s fault?

In the blame game, Southern California — and large cities in general — are popular targets.

But again, the experts urged a look at the bigger picture. “You’ve got to look at all the sectors in California,” Frank said. “Domestic and urban use is considered the highest and best use of water [according to the law]. Are you going to tell cities they can’t provide water for their residents for cooking, cleaning and bathing? I don’t think so.” Börk said the state could do a better job of setting expectations during good years, so people know where to make cuts once droughts hit.

Would desalination plants solve the drought?

Living in a coastal state beleaguered by drought might feel like “water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.” So why don’t we use existing technology to remove the salt from the Pacific Ocean’s water? Some in Southern California are doing just that, seeking a desalination plant in Huntington Beach, just 60 miles from the country’s largest facility. That plant, which opened in Carlsbad in 2015, provides 10% of San Diego County’s drinking water.

“Engineering-wise it’s quite possible, but it’s also very costly,” Lund said. “That would essentially more than double most water bills in urban areas. … There might be some potential there, but it’s never going to be a big contributor, I think.” He added that desalinated water would never be used for agriculture, because it would cost more than the price anyone could likely get for their crops.

Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant in Santa Barbara plays a key role in improving water reliability and resiliency for the city during drought years. Florence Low/California Department of Water Resources

Will we survive the drought?

Even as worsening droughts continue to threaten the state, California’s economy and people will be just fine, the experts said. Lund wrote in a 2016 California WaterBlog that this state is one of the most prosperous Mediterranean climates in the world. (Australia’s gross domestic product per employed person is higher, but California produces more food.) Yet our native ecosystems haven’t suffered as much as those in other areas.

“I like to tell people we do a terrible job managing water, but if you grade on a curve we do pretty well,” he said, adding that the main drivers of the economy — cities — are the parts of California best prepared to deal with droughts. He added that people in most other Mediterranean climates use much less water than Californians, so more lawns will likely have to turn brown here.

Börk said he is optimistic about the state’s water policy. “California has this long history of consistently, over time changing its water rights system to match the physical reality that’s facing the state,” he said. “California has a remarkable ability to adapt, and I think we can find a way through this together.”

 

If you have issues with your domestic well, please contact Self-Help Enterprises at (559)802-1285.

For additional information, please see the attached flyer/ Madera County Water Resources – English/Spanish

Drought Workshop

July 20, 2021. This was a Zoom/ In-person event. To watch the recording of the event, please click the link below and enter the passcode (Passcode: &6&WPm6a)

https://bit.ly/3eHdFJH

Drought Workshop Presentations

Self-Help Presentation- Drought Workshop– July 20, 2021

Nitrate Control Program Presentation-Drought Workshop– July 20, 2021.

Madera RWMG Presentation- Drought Workshop-July 20, 2021

Drought

A drought is an event of prolonged shortages in the water supply, whether atmospheric, surface water or ground water. A drought can last for months or years, and can be declared after as few as 15 days. It can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region and harm to the local economy. Annual dry seasons in the tropics significantly increase the chances of a drought developing and subsequent bush fires. Periods of heat can significantly worsen drought conditions by hastening evaporation of water vapor.

California’s severe drought was made worse this year by a shocking surprise. Every year, much of the drinking water that flows through the taps of millions of Californians begins in the Sierra Nevada. In a normal year, snow and rain falls on the vast mountain range during the winter months, and the water moves downhill into streams, rivers and reservoirs in the spring and summer. This year, in a trend that startled water managers, much of that runoff simply vanished. This meant ground the was so dry that the water soaked in before making it down the mountain.

 

 

Drought Impacts

Severe drought conditions like those now gripping the West have adverse consequences for people, businesses, and nature. These impacts are not evenly distributed. Small and rural communities, many of which have a greater proportion of low-income households and people of color often feel the worst effects. Freshwater ecosystems are at serious risk from low water flows and high water temperatures, and water-quality issues are worsened by increased salt and contaminant concentrations and reduced oxygen levels. Surface water shortages for agriculture lead to more groundwater pumping and continued overdraft causes land subsidence, property damage, drying of domestic wells, and a permanent loss in groundwater storage.

Fish and Wildlife: Droughts in California are especially hard on natural ecosystems already suffering from overuse and contamination. In 2014 and 2015, 95 percent of young, endangered winter-run Chinook Salmon died due to high water temperatures on the Sacramento River (sfgate.com/bay area), increasing the risk of regional extinction of already threatened salmon and other fish species.

Wildfire:  Wildfires are becoming more frequent and severe and are starting earlier in the year and lasting longer. Low soil moisture and lack of rain worsens pest outbreaks and tree deaths, which in turn further increases wildfire risks and concern is growing for an extremely severe fire risk this year.

Agriculture: In the face of water shortages, farmers have to look to alternative supplies and practices, such as purchasing water through temporary transfers, pumping more groundwater, changing the types of crops grown, installing efficient irrigation systems, and fallowing land. As efforts to implement California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) expand, constraints on groundwater pumping — in both wet and dry years — will grow, further complicating agricultural responses to drought.

Rural Communities: Rural communities throughout the west are often dependent on a single water source, which increases their vulnerability to drought. During the past severe California drought, many shallow rural groundwater wells went dry as deeper agricultural wells depleted groundwater, causing major impacts on some communities. Declining water supplies and water-quality problems this year may force communities to switch to costly bottled water, dig deeper wells, and truck in emergency supplies of water. These actions impose local economic hardships on those living in rural areas, many of whom are among our most disadvantaged communities.

Urban Areas: A diversified water supply means that urban areas are usually not at high risk of running out of water, but severe drought typically leads to voluntary and mandatory efforts to cut use. There is capacity to create additional supply through water conservation in these areas. Water utilities are already beginning to implement mandatory and voluntary water-conservation programs, including educational programs, incentives to install water-efficient devices, and restrictions on discretionary water uses like car washing and watering lawns, and new cutbacks are likely as the drought continues.

Energy: Drought can strain the energy system. Past droughts have led to declines in hydroelectricity generation, leading to a shift to more expensive and polluting fossil fuels. Electricity generation from thermoelectric plants may also be curtailed if insufficient cooling water is available or if temperature limits in receiving waters are exceeded. Pumping costs to farmers increase as groundwater levels drop. Additionally, higher temperatures associated with drought reduce the efficiency of thermal power plants and of transmission and distribution lines while increasing energy demand for cooling systems.

 

Drought Spreads to 93 Percent of West—That’s Never Happened 

The extreme dry conditions threaten crops and raise wildfire risks

The western United States is experiencing its worst drought this century, threatening to kill crops, spark wildfires and harm public health as hot and dry conditions are expected to continue this month. More than 93% of the land in seven Western states is in drought conditions, and nearly 59% of the area is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought—the two worst conditions—according to the latest figures released by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Both figures are the highest this century for the area that covers all of Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and most of Utah. Before this year, the record for Western land in extreme or exceptional drought was 43%, set in September 2003. The conditions have led to fire and fishing restrictions across the West and have prompted wildfire alerts. The National Interagency Fire Center is warning that the intensifying drought across the West is creating significant wildfire risk over the next three months from California to the Northwest and across the northern Plains.

“Last year, we had a lot of wildfire and a lot of smoke. It would be very surprising if that did not happen again this year,” Douglas Kluck, NOAA’s director of regional climate services in Kansas City, said in a virtual presentation last week. Agriculture Department reports show that several crops, including wheat, sunflowers, and barley, are threatened by the extensive drought, which is concentrated in the West but is also affecting areas as far east as the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Iowa. “We have huge concerns up in the northern Plains. Conditions are not good,” Dennis Today, director of USDA’s Midwest Climate Hub, said during the presentation. The Drought Monitor said drought-stricken ranchers are selling their cattle because of a lack of feed and poor forage conditions.

At least eight national forests in the West have imposed fire restrictions. Fishing restrictions have been imposed on many rivers because of low flows and warm waters. Although drought conditions have been exacerbated by recent record temperatures in the West, Kluck said the current drought has been developing since the spring of 2020.

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