Getting ready for the first megadrought caused by human culture, economics


Water level, now, at the Ward Creek Reservoir, Grand Mesa, Colorado

A vast region of the western United States, extending from California, Arizona and New Mexico north to Oregon and Idaho, is in the grips of the first climate change-induced megadrought observed in the past 1,200 years, a study shows. The finding means the phenomenon is no longer a threat for millions to worry about in the future, but is already here.

The megadrought has emerged while thirsty, expanding cities are on a collision course with the water demands of farmers and with environmental interests, posing nightmare scenarios for water managers in fast-growing states.

Unlike historical megadroughts triggered by natural climate cycles, emissions of heat-trapping gases from human activities have contributed to the current one, the study finds. Warming temperatures and increasing evaporation, along with earlier spring snowmelt, have pushed the Southwest into its second-worst drought in more than a millennium of observations.

RTFA. Read it and weep for what humankind has wrought. Not just upon the American Southwest and those of us who live here; but, to the whole planet.

24 thoughts on “Getting ready for the first megadrought caused by human culture, economics

  1. Boiling frog says:

    “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” William Gibson (The Economist, December 4, 2003)

  2. RaPaR says:

    Humanity continues to make our own beds…….this time we’ve set them on fire. Time to sleep in them. We continue to elect moronic leaders that willfully and purposefully deny our impact on the planet for as pocketful of cash. Now let them spend it on water.

  3. Cassandra says:

    “Climatologist: Dry areas in US Southwest getting drier” (Sept 27, 2020) https://www.abqjournal.com/1501125/climatologist-dry-areas-in-us-southwest-getting-drier.html

    “Confronting Climate Change in New Mexico: Preparing the state for a hotter, drier future.” By Jason Funk Ph.D., Union of Concerned Scientists (May 2, 2016) https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2016/04/Climate-Change-New-Mexico-fact-sheet.pdf See also https://350newmexico.org/confronting-climate-change-in-new-mexico/
    Synopsis: earlier and more erratic springs, hotter and dryer summers, less predictable winters. Drought will return and intensify, potentially reaching the level of the Great Drought of 1276 through 1299 ( https://www.britannica.com/event/Great-Drought#ref=ref112984 ). Drought conditions will include more violent and concentrated thunderstorms, resulting in increased flash flooding that will severely impact acequias. Increasing proportion of precipitation will be falling as rain rather than snow during winter and result in less and less snowpack. Also earlier snowmelt will cause lower stream flows at critical times of the year when the reduced availability of water for irrigation will have greater consequences. Drought will result in larger and more destructive wildfires and megafires, resulting in more erosion of watersheds and rapidly increased losses of the storage capacity of reservoirs

  4. Update says:

    The man-made lakes that store water supplying millions of people in the U.S. West and Mexico are projected to shrink to historic lows in the coming months, dropping to levels that could trigger the federal government’s first-ever official shortage declaration and prompt cuts in Arizona and Nevada. https://apnews.com/article/business-science-general-news-government-and-politics-environment-and-nature-09302e61c5e0ef051f50459f3dcb771f
    It comes as climate change means less snowpack flows into the river and its tributaries, and hotter temperatures parch soil and cause more river water to evaporate as it streams through the drought-plagued American West. https://apnews.com/article/business-science-general-news-government-and-politics-environment-and-nature-09302e61c5e0ef051f50459f3dcb771f
    Why the intense U.S. drought is now a megadrought https://mashable.com/article/drought-us-southwest-megadrought/
    Mexico’s drought reaches critical levels as lakes dry up : Drought conditions now cover 85% of Mexico https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/mexicos-drought-reaches-critical-levels-lakes-dry-77251025

  5. Vecino says:

    “Drought In Mexico Puts Millions Of Acres Of Crops At Risk” https://fronterasdesk.org/content/1682812/drought-mexico-puts-millions-acres-crops-risk
    “More than 2 million acres of irrigated crops could be at risk in Mexico because of a lack of water. Neighboring Sonora is among the worst hit.
    A new report from Mexico’s agricultural agency shows that as of the end of March, more than half of the country’s 4.3 million acres of unharvested irrigated crops are at risk of being lost due to water shortages.
    Eighty-five percent of the country is currently experiencing drought conditions. And Sonora is among three states at the highest risk of seeing crops destroyed, according to the report.
    Agricultural production in 10 Sonoran municipalities is considered highly vulnerable. And dozens of other drought-ridden areas are considered moderately vulnerable to production loss, as the state’s dams sit at less than a third of capacity.”
    Drought monitor https://smn.conagua.gob.mx/es/climatologia/monitor-de-sequia/monitor-de-sequia-en-mexico

  6. Baker says:

    The U.S. Wheat Crop Is in Trouble : Spring wheat could see some of its lowest wheat yields in decades due to widespread drought and heat. https://gizmodo.com/the-u-s-wheat-crop-is-in-trouble-1847281693
    Wheat farmers across the country are facing lower yields as 98% of the country’s wheat crop is in areas experiencing drought. https://www.agweb.com/news/crops/wheat/spring-wheat-crop-quality-tumbles-some-farmers-abandon-fields
    7 Shocking Satellite Images Reveal the West’s Megadrought https://gizmodo.com/7-shocking-satellite-images-reveal-the-wests-megadrough-1847080510 ]

    • p/s says:

      Get ready to pay more for tomatoes, as California growers reel from extreme weather : Tomato growers are feeling the squeeze: Low inventory, pandemic hoarding and now extreme drought https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/07/28/california-tomatoes-drought-prices/
      California grows more than 90 percent of Americans’ canned tomatoes and a third of the world’s. Ongoing drought in the state has hurt the planting and harvesting of many summer crops, but water-hungry “processing tomatoes” are caught up in a particularly treacherous swirl (a “tormado”?) of problems that experts say will spur prices to surge far more than they already have.
      Meanwhile: The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA) and the Texas International Produce Association (TIPA) have welcomed the efforts of Congressman Vicente Gonzalez in leading a bipartisan letter addressed to the Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo, regarding a proposal to reinterpret parts of the 2019 Suspension Agreement on Fresh Tomatoes from Mexico (TSA). http://www.fruitnet.com/americafruit/article/185906/trade-welcomes-bipartisan-support-in-tomato-spat

  7. Cassandra says:

    Drought worsens in California as region faces more triple-digit heat, making it tougher to control the wildfires https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/30/weather/us-western-wildfires-friday/index.html
    The West’s historic drought in 3 maps https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/17/weather/west-california-drought-maps/index.html “More than 95 percent of the West is in some level of drought, with nearly two-thirds in extreme or exceptional drought — the two worst categories. Six states are entirely in drought conditions.
    Scientists say the unprecedented, multi-year drought is a clear sign of how the climate crisis is affecting not only the weather, but water supply, food production and electricity generation.”

  8. Cassandra says:

    Study finds Western megadrought is the worst in 1,200 years (NPR) https://www.npr.org/2022/02/14/1080302434/study-finds-western-megadrought-is-the-worst-in-1-200-years
    The Western U.S. and Northern Mexico are experiencing their driest period in at least 1,200 years, according to the new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The last comparable – though not as severe – multi-decade megadrought occurred in the 1500s, when the West was still largely inhabited by American Indian tribes.

    Nature Climate Change (2/14/22): “Rapid intensification of the emerging southwestern North American megadrought in 2020–2021” https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-022-01290-z
    “A previous reconstruction back to 800 ce indicated that the 2000–2018 soil moisture deficit in southwestern North America was exceeded during one megadrought in the late-1500s. Here, we show that after exceptional drought severity in 2021, ~19% of which is attributable to anthropogenic climate trends, 2000–2021 was the driest 22-yr period since at least 800. This drought will very likely persist through 2022, matching the duration of the late-1500s megadrought.”

  9. Collateral damage says:

    Twenty million people are at risk of starvation this year as delayed rains worsen an already brutal drought in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, the United Nations has warned.
    For months, extreme drought has left the Horn of Africa on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe, destroying crops and livestock and forcing huge numbers of people to leave their homes in search of food and water. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/4/19/20-million-risk-starvation-as-horn-of-africa-drought-worsens-un

  10. Cassandra says:

    Photos: Waiting for water train in India’s scorching desert state
    For more than three weeks, the 40-wagon train carrying some 2 million liters has been the only source of water in Rajasthan’s Pali district for thousands of people.
    Temperatures often exceed 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) here, but this year the heat came early in what many experts say is more proof of climate change making life unbearable for India’s 1.35 billion people. https://www.aljazeera.com/gallery/2022/5/17/photos-waiting-for-water-train-in-indias-scorching-desert-state-rajasthan
    p/s: “Together, high humidity and heat can create “wet-bulb temperatures” so vicious that sweating no longer cools people down, potentially killing a healthy adult within hours.”

  11. Uggiosità says:

    “Italy is in the depths of one of its worst droughts, with the country’s largest river, the Po, hitting its lowest level in 70 years, threatening crops and raising the specter of power outages.” https://gcaptain.com/worst-drought-in-70-years-threatens-northern-italys-food-power/
    “While much of Europe has had drier-than-average conditions this year, northern Italy’s Po valley is the worst hit, according to the JRC Global Drought Observatory. Several months without rains and an earlier-than-usual halt in flows from melting snow in the western Alps have made large swaths of the river bed visible — so much so that a German tank from World War II resurfaced recently.
    With water sources depleting, Italian hydroelectric reservoir levels are at historic lows. The production of hydroelectric power, which usually supplies 15% of the country’s needs, is down 50% so far this year from 2021. Compounding the region’s woes, the Adriatic sea has entered into the Po delta for at least 10 kilometers, threatening farm lands and raising the risk of salty water in taps. Northern Italian towns are rationing water and supplying it in trucks as they face a potential drinking-water shortage.
    The drought may bring significant economic pain. The Po river, which flows from west to east in northern Italy, is a lifeline for such major industrial centers as Milan and Turin — home to the maker of Fiat cars and steel pipes manufacturer Tenaris SA. Lombardy and Piedmont, the regions where the cities sit, are also big agricultural producers, accounting for 93% of Italy’s rice production. With water availability more than halving in east Piedmont, this year’s crop is under threat, local farmers say.”

    • La sete says:

      A Devastating Drought Just Revealed A Sunken World War II Shipwreck In Italy’s Largest River https://allthatsinteresting.com/zibello-barge
      “This drought is unique in history due to the combination of two anomalies – the lack of rain, on top of the elevated temperature, which is directly linked to climate change”, according to Luca Mercalli, the president of the Italian Meteorological Society.
      The Associated Press reports that Po Valley farmers produce 40 percent of Italy’s food, including Parmesan cheese, wheat, tomatoes, rice, and grapes.

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