WHEN?

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By Anne T. Sulton, Ph.D., J.D.
JA Senior International Correspondent

Droughts are a sign and symptom of climate change. The USA’s National Centers for Environmental Information at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that “Scientists often refer to drought as a ‘creeping disaster.’”

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions explains that climate change contributes to drought because soil evaporation occurs as temperatures rise.

NOAA’s National Weather Service identifies four types of drought: meteorological (measure of departure of precipitation from normal); agricultural (amount of moisture in the soil no longer sufficient for certain crops); hydrological (surface and subsurface water supplies are below normal); and socioeconomic (physical water shortages affect people). NOAA explains that “The severity of the drought depends upon the degree of moisture deficiency, the duration, and the size of the affected area.”

According to the drought maps issued by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), more than half the lands west of the USA’s mighty Mississippi River currently are suffering severe, extreme, or exceptional droughts.

Nearly a third of California currently is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought. This matters, in part, because California is the USA’s largest agricultural producer. According to UNL, among the effects of this drought are:

  • Water shortages are increasing
  • Surface water is decreasing
  • Water wells are running dry
  • Wetlands are drying
  • Water quality is decreasing
  • Many crops are not planted
  • Planted crops yields are low
  • Number and extent of wildfires are increasing
  • Forest mortality is increasing
  • Foods needed for wildlife survival are decreasing
  • Fish are being rescued and relocated
  • Water needed for hydropower facilities is decreasing
  • Unemployment among agricultural workers is increasing
  • West Nile disease outbreaks are increasing


When – by what date certain – will we realize that droughts now are widespread and water conservation is an essential component of any effort to address the droughts?