July 2014: Drought eases in Central US, remains entrenched in West
|The four weeks ending July 29, 2014, saw improvement notably in New Mexico and central states from Texas to Nebraska, and intensification in California.
|The U.S. Drought Monitor showed 34.06 percent of the contiguous 48 states in moderate drought or worse on July 29.
|The Monthly Drought Outlook from the Climate Prediction Center shows persistent drought in the West, with improvement in New Mexico and adjacent states receiving monsoonal moisture.
By Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologist
The proportion of the United States in drought decreased in July, from 35.03 percent of the contiguous 48 states in moderate drought or worse at the beginning of the month, to 34.06 percent at the end. The intensity levels of drought also improved slightly everywhere but in the West, where exceptional drought expanded. Severe drought improved from 24.82 to 22.77 percent during July and extreme drought improved from 11.23 to 10.60 percent, but exceptional drought increased from 2.91 percent to 3.90 percent.
After recording an abundance of rain in June, many areas of the central Plains and Midwest dried out in July. Most areas in these regions had close to 3 inches below normal precipitation for the month, with only a few areas above normal. Some areas along the Gulf Coast also continued to dry out. In contrast, areas of Oklahoma, north Texas and the Southwest recorded above-normal precipitation during July, with many areas close to 3 inches above normal for the month and parts of southeast Oklahoma close to 6 inches above normal. The monsoon moisture fed into the Southwest and helped to bring some much-needed rainfall throughout the region. Many areas along the Eastern Seaboard were also above normal for the month.
Even with the dryness in the Midwest and central Plains, temperatures were well below normal for most of the country east of the Rocky Mountains. From Iowa to northern Arkansas and from eastern Nebraska to Indiana, July temperatures averaged 6 degrees Fahrenheit below normal. Only northern New England, southern Florida and south Texas showed normal to slightly above-normal temperatures. The western United States was the exact opposite, as heat and dryness continued in the region. Most areas were 4-6 degrees above normal for the month, with portions of northern California and southern Oregon as much as 6-8 degrees above normal.. Outlook
The August Outlook shows that most of the drought in the West will remain, with possible expansion in northern Oregon. Continued monsoonal moisture in New Mexico and a continued wet pattern over north Texas, Oklahoma, western Kansas, and southeast Colorado may lead to further drought improvements there. But drought could expand over south Texas and in portions of Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Nebraska, and South Dakota if August continues to be dry.
|Movers & Shakers for July 2014
June 24, 2014
July 29, 2014
||Percentage point change
|Biggest increases in drought
| Biggest improvements to drought
| New Mexico
Temperatures were above normal in northern New England, while the rest of the region was below normal in July. Portions of western New York and western Pennsylvania were 2-3 degrees below normal for the month. As well as being warmer than normal, northern New England was wetter than normal, with some areas recording up to 6 inches of precipitation more than usual. Most of the region was normal to above normal for the month but the southern extent of the region was dry, with most areas 1-3 inches below normal precipitation for the month. There are not currently any drought areas in the region and only a few lingering areas labeled as abnormally dry on the U.S. Drought Monitor.
As with most of the eastern United States, temperatures in the Southeast were below normal during July. Temperature departures were 2-4 degrees below normal, with only areas of Florida near normal for the month. Most of the region was dry in July, with departures of up to 3 inches quite common. Areas of south Florida and along the Atlantic coast were above normal, by as much as 3-6 inches in many areas. Drought is not an issue in the region, with only 0.38 percent of the area in drought right now, confined to Georgia. Some abnormally dry areas have developed with the dryness in July, now totaling 28.54 percent of the region.
Cooler than normal temperatures dominated the Midwest in July, with departures of up to 8 degrees recorded. The entire region was below normal for the month, generally by as much as 4-6 degrees. The cooler-than-normal temperatures were combined with less than normal precipitation in July. Most of the region was as much as 3 inches below normal for the month, with pockets of drier conditions in Iowa, Minnesota, and Kentucky. Drought expanded in a few areas during July, with 2.50 percent of the region now in drought, mainly limited to Missouri and Kentucky.
Like the Midwest, most of the High Plains was cool in July, especially in eastern Nebraska and southern Kansas, which were 4-6 degrees below normal. The areas west of the Continental Divide were 2-4 degrees above normal. Although most of the area was cooler than normal, drier-than-normal conditions were also prevalent. Most of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas were 1-3 inches below normal. Only areas of southern Kansas, central Colorado and southeastern Wyoming recorded above-normal precipitation, by 1-3 inches. Overall, drought conditions improved slightly as the region ended July with 21.67 percent of the area in drought, compared to 22.51 percent at the end of June. Intensity levels also improved, with severe drought decreasing from 11.70 to 8.60 percent, extreme drought decreasing from 5.23 to 2.09 percent, and exceptional drought decreasing from 0.39 to 0.19 percent.
The southern Plains and the South had a wetter pattern. Most of north Texas and all of Oklahoma recorded above-normal precipitation, with some areas in eastern Oklahoma 6-8 inches above normal. East Texas, most of Louisiana, most of Arkansas, and northwestern Mississippi were also above normal for the month, with departures of 1-2 inches common and portions of east Texas and west central Arkansas 4-6 inches above normal. Temperatures were 2-4 degrees below normal over most of the region with only southern and west Texas above normal. Drought conditions improved as some of the hardest-hit drought areas in both Texas and Oklahoma recorded above-normal precipitation. Moderate drought improved from 46.11 to 39.88 percent, severe drought improved from 27.38 to 24.65 percent, extreme drought improved from 15.14 to 10.33 percent, and exceptional drought improved from 3.92 to 2.08 percent of the region.
The pattern of above-normal temperatures continued over the western United States. The entire region was above normal for July. Most areas recorded temperatures 2-4 degrees above normal, with the Great Basin and northern California as much as 6-8 degrees above normal. Precipitation returned with the monsoon moisture in portions of the Southwest, Nevada and Utah. The wettest areas were in New Mexico, where most of the state was about 2 inches above normal for July. Dry conditions over central and eastern Montana and into Idaho were reported, with departures of 2-3 inches below normal for the month. Overall, the drought conditions stayed about the same in July, with 60.93 percent of the region in drought. Conditions intensified though, with extreme drought worsening from 20.35 to 21.68 percent of the region and exceptional drought worsening from 5.64 to 8.98 percent of the region, mainly in California.
Western drought leads to water restrictions, wildfire, ag losses, reduced habitat
|The Drought Impact Reporter showed 115 impacts for July 2014, with most related to official responses to water shortage.
|This chart shows the states with the most impacts, color-coded by category. California had 60 impacts.
||"Sand Fire" by Eileen McFall, July 25, 2014, is licensed under CC BY 2.0. The Sand Fire in Amador County, California, started when a car parked in dry grass.
|| "Sacramento Capitol During the Drought," July 10, 2014, by Kevin Cortopassi, is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.
By Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist
Wildfires blazed and water concerns worsened along the West Coast as drought intensified in July. Washington, Oregon and California endured numerous lightning-sparked wildfires that defied firefighters’ attempts to control them. Water was in short supply, affecting crops, municipal supplies and wildlife in parts of the southwestern and western U.S.
California enforcing state-wide conservation measures
Water scarcity intensified in California as more wells went dry and water conservation rates were below the 20 percent Gov. Jerry Brown requested in January, when he declared California to be in a drought emergency. On July 15 California’s State Water Resources Control Board mandated water conservation measures for consumers and water utilities. Effective August 1, outdoor watering, except for two days per week, car washing without a shutoff nozzle and pavement washing were prohibited. Violators may be fined up to $500 per day. These new measures were needed to boost water conservation.
“State water board approves emergency regulation to ensure agencies and state residents increase water conservation,” State Water Resources Control Board press release, July 15, 2014
California issues tougher curtailment enforcement measures
California’s State Water Resources Control Board toughened its drought enforcement regulations to deal with junior water rights holders who have not responded to the late-May curtailment notice to stop diverting water. The board approved emergency regulations on July 2, effective for the next nine months, to simplify and hasten the process for making water rights holders comply with the curtailment notice. The board can also fine scofflaws $500 per day without a hearing, a process that used to last months or even years. The board took these measures after learning that 69 percent of the state’s almost 10,000 water rights holders did not respond to the May curtailment notices.
“California water regulators up enforcement powers,” KCRA.com (Sacramento, Calif.), July 3, 2014
State Water Resources Control Board Resolution No. 2014-0031: To adopt an emergency regulation for statewide drought-related curtailment of water diversions to protect senior water rights
California homeowners cannot be fined by HOAs for having brown lawns
California homeowners who allow their lawns to turn brown for lack of watering during drought cannot be fined by homeowners associations, thanks to AB2100, signed into law July 21. Prior to the legislation, some homeowners found themselves caught between trying to keep their homeowners associations happy by watering their lawns and trying to cut water use and avoid government fines.
“Fines for brown lawns blocked by bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown,” by Jeremy B. White, Merced (Calif.) Sun-Star, July 21, 2014
California water fetching exorbitant prices
Water continued to sell at fantastic prices of up to $2,200 per acre-foot in California during the first half of 2014, as those with private stores of water sold it to the highest bidders. The Madera Irrigation District recently took in $7 million from the sale of 3,200 acre-feet to farmers, who outbid the city of Santa Barbara for the water.
“In Dry California, Water Fetching Record Prices,” by Garance Burke, Associated Press, July 2, 2014
USDA provides additional assistance for Californians with dry wells
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $9.7 million in additional drought relief for rural Californians in 11 counties to help with dry wells and other water sources. The Obama administration has given more than $50 million in drought assistance.
“Washington gives $9.7M for California drought aid,” Associated Press, The Palm Springs (Calif.) Desert Sun, July 18, 2014
Subsidence issues foster cooperation in Merced County, California
Excessive groundwater pumping and resulting land subsidence has two Merced County men, a farmer and the general manager of San Luis Canal Co., working together and recruiting area farmers to create solutions that prevent additional subsidence and still meet water needs. Some mitigative efforts could include absorbing more rainwater in fallow fields for storage underground, storing floodwater, using highly efficient irrigation methods, lobbying for new reservoirs and possibly pushing for regulating California groundwater.
“California drought: As land sinks, farmers brainstorm on water,” by Kevin Fagan, The San Francisco Chronicle, July 26, 2014
Researchers underscore groundwater loss in the Colorado River Basin
A study conducted by NASA and University of California, Irvine, found that the Colorado River Basin lost much more groundwater over the past decade than previously thought. The Colorado River Basin lost nearly 53 million acre-feet between December 2004 and November 2013, with 75 percent of that loss coming from underground sources, said researchers. Changes in the basin’s mass were determined using data from the NASA Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment mission. Groundwater sources can become so depleted that they may never refill, said Stephanie Castle, the study's lead author and a water resource specialist at the University of California, Irvine. The groundwater depletion in the Colorado River Basin could threaten water supplies in the basin and in parts of Mexico.
“Satellites Show Major Southwest Groundwater Loss,” Associated Press, July 24, 2014
“Parched west is using up underground water: NASA/UCI,” press release, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, July 24, 2014
Pilot program aims to conserve water in Colorado River Basin
The Interior Department and four municipal water providers in Arizona, California, Nevada and Colorado were contributing $11 million to promote water conservation in the Colorado River basin and will take part in a pilot program to reduce water demand by cities, farmers and industry.
“Deal struck to conserve Colorado River basin,” Associated Press, Las Vegas Sun (Nev.), July 31, 2014
Elephant Butte irrigators in New Mexico get minimal allotments
Irrigators with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District will have received 7.5 acre-inches by the end of the irrigation season, which is considerably less than the full allotment of 3 acre-feet. Low rainfall has kept farmers from receiving a full allotment for several years.
“Doña Ana County farmers to get slight water hike as season winds to a close,” by Diana Alba Soular, Las Cruces (N.M.) Sun-News, July 9, 2014
Drought and lower water levels stress New Mexico water systems
A privately owned water system south of Santa Fe has seen a big drop in the levels of some of its 12 wells. Two wells, for instance, have water levels 100 feet lower than they were three years ago. A new well was recently drilled and was providing water, but water prices could not be set high enough to recoup the costs. Numerous other water systems in New Mexico were also struggling to keep up with demand, due to drought, aging infrastructure and contamination.
“Community water systems struggle with drought, aging wells,” by Staci Matlock, The Santa Fe New Mexican, July 7, 2014
Plano, Texas, residents taste the down side of water conservation
Water authorities in Plano have allowed residents extra watering days to reward them for dutifully conserving water, and to keep the system’s water fresh. They found that when residents used less water, water quality deteriorated slightly, affecting the water’s taste because it remained in the system too long. Rather than opening fire hydrants to move the water as was done last year, the Plano water utility has allowed residents to use the water.
“Plano calls a ‘water holiday’ to thank residents for conserving,” by Michael E. Young, The Dallas Morning News, July 22, 2014
Drought cuts California hydropower generation
Drought has cut into hydropower production in California, driving energy costs and emissions higher as the state turns to other energy sources, which cost more than hydropower. Hydropower generation dropped from 18.2 percent of all power generated in California in 2011 to 11.7 percent in 2012 when drought began.
“Drought hinders state’s emissions goals,” by David R. Baker, San Francisco Chronicle, July 20, 2014.
Washington and Oregon
Nearly one million acres of land in Washington and Oregon burned in July as lightning strikes sparked many fires. At least 150 homes were destroyed, while thousands of homes and buildings remained threatened by the fires. Twenty counties in eastern Washington and all of Oregon were in a state of emergency, due to the wildfires. The emergency declarations by state officials opened the way to firefighting assistance from the National Guard.
“Northwest fires burn almost 1 million acres, dozens of homes,” by Maria L. La Ganga and Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times, July 20, 2014
Wildfires continued to ravage California, which has battled fires since the start of the year. The Bald fire and the Eiler fire charred 40,000 acres and 28,000 acres, respectively, in Shasta County. Large wildfires have also seared the Sierra, Klamath and Tahoe national forests and Yosemite National Park.
“California wildfires: Storms curb blazes as lightning starts new ones,” by Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times, Aug. 4, 2014
| California Wildfire
| Time Interval
| Jan. 1 - July 26, 2014
| Jan. 1 - July 26, 2013
| Jan. 1 - July 26, 5-year average
|From the Cal Fire website on Aug. 4, 2014. (Statistics include all wildfires responded to by CAL FIRE in both the State Responsibility Area, as well as the Local Responsibility Area under contract with the department, plus all large wildfires in State Responsibility Area protected by CAL FIRE’s contract counties.)
Major report tallies drought’s effects on farm production in the Central Valley
A study of drought’s effects on farm production in the Central Valley, conducted by the University of California, Davis, Center for Watershed Sciences, found that drought cut the amount of river water to the Central Valley by one-third, making this the greatest water loss ever experienced by California agriculture. Farmers were compensating for the loss by increasing groundwater pumping, and in some areas, pumping more than twice as much water as last year. Groundwater has been essential in helping the state get through this drought without larger economic losses. Study findings include:
- Direct costs to agriculture total $1.5 billion (revenue losses of $1 billion and $0.5 billion in additional pumping costs). This net revenue loss is about 3 percent of the state’s total agricultural value.
- The total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.2 billion.
- The loss of 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs related to agriculture represents 3.8 percent of farm unemployment.
- 428,000 acres, or 5 percent, of irrigated cropland is going out of production in the Central Valley, Central Coast and Southern California due to the drought.
- The Central Valley is hardest hit, particularly the Tulare Basin, with projected losses of $810 million, or 2.3 percent, in crop revenue; $203 million in dairy and livestock value; and $453 million in additional well-pumping costs.
- Agriculture on the Central Coast and in Southern California will be less affected by this year’s drought, with about 19,150 acres fallowed, $10 million in lost crop revenue and $6.3 million in additional pumping costs.
- Overdraft of groundwater is expected to cause additional wells in the Tulare Basin to run dry if the drought continues.
- The drought is likely to continue through 2015, regardless of El Niño conditions.
- Consumer food prices will be largely unaffected. Higher prices at the grocery store of high-value California crops like nuts, wine grapes and dairy foods are driven more by market demand than by the drought.
“UC Davis Drought Study Assesses Current Losses and Potential Future Impacts,” by Office of Public Affairs, California Department of Food and Agriculture, July 15, 2014.
Full report: Economic Analysis of the 2014 Drought for California Agriculture
Oklahoma wheat production down
The Oklahoma wheat crop amounted to an estimated 51 million bushels, the least amount since 1957, when the harvest was 43 million bushels, according to the Oklahoma Wheat Commission. Persistent drought, a late spring freeze and poorly-timed spring rains contributed to the small harvest.
“Oklahoma Wheat Crop Worst In Nearly Half Century,” by Associated Press, KGOU Radio (Norman, Okla.), July 18, 2014
Pacific Flyway habitat parched
This year is expected to be a very difficult one for North American waterfowl that travel along the Pacific Flyway. With the drought, there are fewer remaining water sources in the Central Valley, crowding birds into smaller areas, making it easier to transmit diseases and more challenging to find food. Water supplies to wildlife refuges in the Central Valley were reduced by 25 percent, while rice acreage was cut by a similar amount as farmers received less irrigation water.
Avian botulism is suspected in the deaths of at least 1,700 dead waterfowl, mostly mallard ducks, at Tule Lake, part of the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge on the Oregon-California border; 10 to 20 dead ducks found in a canal in the Pocket neighborhood of Sacramento, near Portuguese Community Park; and roughly the same number of birds in a city pond in Hesperia in San Bernardino County. Avian botulism is likely the culprit in all cases, but lab tests have not yet verified the presence of the pathogen.
“North American waterfowl are newest casualty of California’s drought,” by Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee (Calif.), July 30, 2014
Drought among factors driving down mule deer population in Western U.S.
The deer population shrank throughout the Western U.S. as drought and a multitude of other factors reduced deer numbers. In northwestern Colorado over the last ten years, the country’s largest mule deer herd plummeted from 105,900 in 2005 to an estimated 32,000 at present. The entire Colorado deer population dwindled by 36 percent during the past decade, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and across the West, the trend was similar, with a population decrease of at least 10 percent.
“Deer declining across Colorado and West,” by Bruce Finley, The Denver Post, July 14, 2014
Depleted water resources around Lake Tahoe
Low water in Lake Tahoe and Truckee River hamper recreation
The dropping level of Lake Tahoe has exposed obstacles that are nearer to the water’s surface and are damaging boat propellers. Some sailboats cannot go into the marina, and some boat ramps were closed. Sand Harbor’s boat ramp on Tahoe’s East Shore closed for the rest of the season on July 28. The parking lot will stay open for boats that can be carried to the water, but all other watercraft must go to the Cave Rock boat ramp.Water flowing out of Lake Tahoe was insufficient to permit continued rafting on the Truckee River, forcing outfitters to end their season early at a sizeable financial loss.
“Low water levels taking toll on Lake Tahoe rec businesses,” by Margaret Moran, Tahoe Daily Tribune (South Lake Tahoe, Calif.), July 22, 2014
Hydropower production on hold in Nevada
Three hydropower plants belonging to the Truckee Meadows Power Authority were shutting down because there was not enough water to keep the plants operating. The plants will probably be able to generate hydropower again in January or February.
“Drought Shutters Hydro Power Generation,” by Colin Lygren, KOLO-TV (Reno, Nev.), July 30, 2014
“Drought bears” foraging near Lake Tahoe
“Drought bears” are causing trouble in the Lake Tahoe area as they move into residential areas, feasting on garbage and even nosing around people’s belongings on the beach at Lake Tahoe. Wildlife biologists expected that ongoing drought would lead to more trouble with bears in the Sierra Nevada. Three years of drought have nearly dried up mountain streams and limited the amount of natural foods for bears.
“Wildlife officials capture bear cubs near drought-stricken Lake Tahoe,” by Evan Sernoffsky, San Francisco Chronicle (SFGate.com), July 17, 2014