As drought intensified slightly in parts of Nevada, Idaho, Texas and Florida, the NDMC added 11 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter in December. Alaska had the most drought impacts, documenting low water supplies and issues with energy production. California, Rhode Island and New Mexico had two impacts apiece.
Southeast Alaska has been in severe drought, with 2018 being Ketchikan’s fourth driest year on record.
The Ketchikan area received a little more than 96 inches of rain and snow water equivalent during the year, leaving the area nearly 36 inches below normal for 2018.
The poor rainfall meant water supplies were lower than normal, threatening hydropower production. Alaska Electric Light & Power announced that its customers will see higher electricity rates, probably through June 2019, because of low rainfall and insufficient hydropower production. AEL&P also produces surplus power, which is usually sold to several other entities, such as Princess Cruise Lines, with the understanding that the supply is interruptible when water supplies are low. Since reservoir levels were low, there was not enough surplus electricity to sell to these customers, fully interrupting their supply for the first time in five years.
A Weird Severe Drought Is Affecting Alaska in One of the Wettest U.S. Locations, by Chris Dolce, The Weather Channel (Atlanta, Georgia), Dec. 11, 2018
Electric rates about to rise, by Alex MeCarthy, Juneau Empire (Alaska), Dec. 17, 2018
Drought was partly responsible for the dearth of Christmas trees in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. A tree farm manager in Attleboro, Massachusetts, reported a shortage of Christmas trees in his area and noted that people from the Cape, Rhode Island and Braintree were calling in search of trees. The financial crisis in 2008 when tree growers planted fewer trees and several hot, dry summers that slowed tree growth were reasons for the shortage.
Rhode Island’s forests were also affected by the lack of rain. Episodes of drought in past years resulted in roughly 13 percent of the trees in the state’s forests dying. Heat and insect infestations also played a role in the tree deaths. Many of the dead trees were located across the western part of the state from Burrillville to Hopkinton, on Prudence Island and the Sakonnet Peninsula. The area of dead trees covered about 45,000 to 50,000 acres, according to The Providence Journal.
Slim pickings at Attleboro area tree farms as Christmas nears, by Judee Cosentino, The Attleboro Sun Chronicle (Massachusetts), Dec. 16, 2018
State: About 13 percent of Rhode Island forest trees dead, by The Associated Press, Dec. 6, 2018
Northern New Mexico enjoyed some snow in late October, but snowfall has been below normal since then. The precipitation outlook remained average to above average, with the hope of an El Niño bringing more snow.
With thin snowpack, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District in southwestern New Mexico issued a warning that customers might receive as little as a few inches of water per acre, given that Elephant Butte Reservoir dipped to just 3 percent of capacity in late September. Subsequent snowfall boosted the reservoir level a little, but far more precipitation was needed for a decent irrigation season.
Early Santa Fe-area snow yields to drier conditions, Sarah Halasz Graham, Santa Fe New Mexican, Dec. 18, 2018
New Mexico farmers brace for meager water allocations, by Susan Montoya Bryan, The Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico), Dec. 20, 2018
Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan
Colorado River water managers met in Las Vegas in December as southwestern states tried to devise drought plans to sustain the Colorado River system as its reservoirs declined. A drought contingency plan was meant to be completed by the end of the year, but the deadline was not met. Arizona and California were still striving to work out details among stakeholders.
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman gave water managers until January 31, 2019, to finalize a drought plan for the basin. If the deadline is not met, the Bureau of Reclamation may impose unprecedented restrictions on water supplies.
Southwest states eye drought plans ahead of expected Lake Mead shortages, by Yvonne Gonzalez, Las Vegas Sun, Dec. 12, 2018
Correction: Colorado River Water-Drought story, by Ken Ritter, The Associated Press, Dec. 18, 2018
US water official: Feds will protect Colorado River without state drought plans, by Tony Davis, Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Arizona), Dec. 13, 2018
For more details, visit the Drought Impact Reporter.