From The New York Times (Henry Fountain):
This year, New Mexican officials have a message for farmers who depend on irrigation water from the Rio Grande and other rivers: Unless you absolutely have to plant this year, don’t.
Years of warming temperatures, a failed rainy season last summer and low snowpack this winter have combined to reduce the state’s rivers to a relative trickle. The agency that controls irrigation flows on the Rio Grande forced the issue. To conserve water, it opened its gates a month later than usual.
Severe drought — largely connected to climate change — is ravaging not only New Mexico but the entire Western half of the United States, from the Pacific Coast, across the Great Basin and desert Southwest, and up through the Rockies to the Northern Plains.
In California, wells are drying up, forcing some homeowners to drill new ones that are deeper and costlier. Lake Mead, on the border of Arizona and Nevada, is so drained of Colorado River water that the two states are facing the eventual possibility of cuts in their supply. And 1,200 miles away in North Dakota, ranchers are hauling water for livestock and giving them supplemental forage, because the heat and dryness is stunting spring growth on the rangelands.
The most significant, and potentially deadly, effect of a drought that is as severe and widespread as any seen in the West is the wildfires that are raging amid hot and dry conditions. And this is well before the full blast of summer’s heat arrives.
California, Arizona and New Mexico have each had two large blazes, unusual for this early in the year. None has been fully contained, including the Palisades Fire, which has burned 1,200 acres on the outskirts of Los Angeles…
…at the root of the drought are warmer temperatures and changing precipitation patterns, which are linked to emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, where they trap the sun’s heat. The result has been extremely dry conditions that have persisted across much of the Southwest and California for years, and that are spreading throughout the West…
According to the United States Drought Monitor, 84 percent of the West is now in drought, with 47 percent rated as “severe” or “extreme.”
Experts do not see much prospect for improvement, as another hot and dry summer is forecast. Rather, they expect conditions to worsen…
In the Southwest, especially, the drought has lingered for so long — since 2000, with only a few wet years sprinkled in — that climate scientists now talk of an emerging “megadrought,” one that may rival those that occurred periodically over the past thousand years. Those Southwestern megadroughts, which were discovered by analyzing ancient tree rings, lasted decades — in one case, 80 years.