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Droughts Continue in the U.S.

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agriculture-countryside-field-64102There are a number of regions in the world that are poised for a “day zero” water crisis, when water reservoirs will eventually run dry. Cape Town, South Africa has been able to postpone this crisis due to extreme conservation efforts however there are other areas that are quickly running out of water including Iraq, India, Morocco, and Spain. (Source: The Guardian)

The US is not exempt from water shortages. California recently emerged from a severe drought in 2017 but it looks as if the state will have another dry year due to meager snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Declining snowpack means less fresh water flowing to farms and cities, and could mean more wildfires, floods, and mudslides over the coming year.

As of May 17, 2018, more than 45% of the US is experiencing abnormally dry or drought conditions and 28% is experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions according to the United States Drought Monitor. The most severe drought conditions are in the high plains - stretching from northern Texas, through the southwest states, and extending to the coast of southern California.

The lack of rain across the southern tier of the nation is typical during a La Niña winter, which is currently in effect. La Niña is a periodic natural cooling of the central Pacific Ocean that affects weather and climate in the U.S. and around the world.

The current drought across the high plains could affect everything from cotton to cattle to farming-equipment sales. The Wall Street Journal states that after three fairly wet years, a drought ranging from “severe” to “exceptional” has descended on the southern Great Plains of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Home to one of the nation’s most fertile farming areas—crop production in the Texas region alone generates about $12 billion in economic activity—observers say the drought could punish the agricultural sector, affecting everything from cotton to cattle to farming-equipment sales.

“It’s going to be in the billions in terms of crop loss,” said Darren Hudson, director of the International Center for Agricultural Competitiveness at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

NASA has warned that water shortages to be the key environmental challenge of the century. A new study found that freshwater supplies have already seriously declined in 19 global hotspots due to overuse. The comprehensive study took data from the NASA Grace (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite mission and combined it with local monitoring to track trends in freshwater from 2002 to 2016 across the globe.

"What we are witnessing is major hydrologic change," said co-author Jay Famiglietti of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "We see a distinctive pattern of the wet land areas of the world getting wetter – those are the high latitudes and the tropics – and the dry areas in between getting dryer. Embedded within the dry areas we see multiple hotspots resulting from groundwater depletion."

NASA will continue to monitor changes in the world's water cycle and surface mass, which was started by the original GRACE mission, with the launch of twin satellites this week. The launch kicks off the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, a collaboration between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ).

Jonathan Farr, senior policy analyst at the charity WaterAid, said in this article, that governments must take note of the findings and increase their role in preserving water resources and providing freshwater to people in a sustainable manner. “This report is a warning and an insight into a future threat. We need to ensure that investment in water keeps pace with industrialisation and farming. Governments need to get to grips with this,” he said, pointing to estimates that between $30bn and $100bn of investment was needed per year to provide freshwater where needed.

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Topics: Drought, Water Scarcity