Drought coverage in the U.S. was near a minimum, coming out of a winter with a weak El Niño influencing the weather. For the most part, April brought rain and improvement in drought conditions, with a few small areas of drought developing in the Southeast and elsewhere.
During April, the NDMC added 28 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter. Texas had the most impacts, with nine concerning agricultural issues. Alaska had eight impacts, documenting water shortages affecting power supplies in the southeast part of the state. California followed with four impacts as water agencies dealt with the end of drought.
Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan approved
Years of hard work and negotiations went into the Colorado River drought contingency plan, which was approved by the U.S. House and Senate on April 8. The plan protects lakes Mead and Powell from being drawn down to the point of being unable to deliver water or produce hydropower. Persistent drought, climate change and high water demand required a reduction in water use to protect the river system.
On April 16, President Trump signed the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan into law. Under the plan, the seven states in the basin committed to using less water and leaving more in Lake Mead.
Ample snowpack in the Colorado River Basin resulted in a forecasted inflow into Lake Powell of 9.20 million acre-feet, or 128 percent of average, from April through July. The higher inflow is desperately needed with river storage at about 45 percent of capacity after nearly two decades of drought and could bring lakes Mead and Powell to more than 50 percent of capacity.
US Congress approves Colorado River drought plan, by Associated Press, April 8, 2019
Trump signs Colorado River drought plan, by Jonathan J. Cooper, Associated Press, April 16, 2019
Snowpack benefits Colorado River operations, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, April 15, 2019
Colorado River basin reservoirs benefit from heavy snowpack, by Associated Press, April 24, 2019
Texas agricultural challenges eased
Parts of the Lone Star state were rather dry at the start of April, stressing agriculture and slowing plant growth. In Far West Texas and the Rolling Plains, wheat needed moisture. Cotton growers in the Southwest and the Coast Bend awaited rain to plant. In Central Texas, dry conditions limited grass growth.
Rain during the month, however, ameliorated drought conditions, leaving the state in better shape for the growing season, but a lingering impact from the previous summer remained. An abundance of weeds afflicted pastures in forage-producing areas like East, Central and Southeast Texas after drought reduced hay production in late 2018. Unseasonal rain followed drought last year, which resulted in fewer plantings of cool-season forages, allowing weeds to proliferate in spring 2019.
Texas Crop and Weather Report – April 2, 2019, by Adam Russell, Texas A&M AgriLife, April 2, 2019
Texas Crop and Weather Report – April 23, 2019, by Adam Russell, The Bryan-College Station Eagle (Texas), April 23, 2019
Alaska less reliant on diesel for electricity
Southeast Alaska was powered by diesel through the winter as drought affected the region. Excessive use of diesel generators to power communities harmed air quality while reservoirs were too low for hydropower production. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski sought federal assistance for the communities of Ketchikan, Petersburg and Wrangell, asking that the air quality regulators issue waivers for the power providers in southeast Alaska.
Toward the end of the month, Petersburg returned to hydropower production, but water conservation was still needed while hydroelectric reservoirs continued to refill. The community relied on diesel power through the winter as the reservoirs ran low and were not replenished amid a drought.
EPA to exempt rural Alaska from some air quality rules for diesel power, by June Leffler, KSTK-FM 101.7 Public Radio (Wrangell, Alaska), April 4, 2019
Electricity conservation still urged to refill Southeast hydro lakes, by Joe Viechnicki, KFSK, KTOO Public Media (Juneau, Alaska), April 29, 2019
California communities emerging from drought restrictions
While drought ended in California in March, water suppliers and communities were still ending water restrictions and declarations as the water supply looked to be much improved with the plentiful snow in the mountains. In Goleta, a water emergency declaration ended on April 9 after taking effect in May 2015. In Santa Barbara, the City Council chose to end its Stage Three Drought Emergency on April 9 and end four years of drought water use regulations.
San Jose’s water utility lost $9 million because of lower water sales during drought and wanted to add a 2.25 percent surcharge to recoup the loss. The 13 water companies that provide water for the South Bay saw reduced water sales of 20 to 28 percent during the drought.
In the San Bernardino County area, local groundwater basins were at record lows after twenty years of drought, according to the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District. Water officials urged continued water conservation, despite the recent relatively wet winter, which was slightly above average in precipitation.
Goleta Water District Lowers Drought Emergency Level, Drops Surcharge, by Tom Bolton, Noozhawk (Santa Barbara, California), April 10, 2019
Santa Barbara declares end to drought emergency, by Lindsay Zuchelli, KSBY San Luis Obispo News (California), April 9, 2019
San Jose Water charging customers for conserving water, by David Louie, KGO-TV ABC 7 San Francisco, April 9, 2019
Keep conserving, officials say, San Bernardino valley groundwater basins are ‘historically low’, by Jennifer Iyer, The Riverside Press-Enterprise (California), April 27, 2019
Washington wildfires, drought emergency
In early April, anxiety in Washington state was running high about the early start to the fire season and the water supply outlook for north central Washington. Through the first three months of this year, 58 wildfires burned, causing fire officials to anticipate another hectic wildfire season.
Governor Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency on April 4 for the Methow, Okanogan and Upper Yakima basins because of anticipated water shortages. Water supplies in the Upper Yakima Basin were forecast at 74 percent of normal, one percentage point below the trigger of 75 percent for a drought emergency. The Methow and Okanogan basins were at 72 and 58 percent of normal, respectively. These are prime agricultural areas, producing apples, berries, cherries and other crops that could suffer if water supplies are short.
Firefighters hoping for best, bracing for worst this wildfire season, by Donald W. Meyers, Yakima Herald (Washington), April 2, 2019
Gov. declares drought emergency in Central Washington, by Associated Press, April 4, 2019
For more details, please visit the Drought Impact Reporter.