From Colorado Newsline (Allison Winter):
A drought crisis unfolding across the West will require short-term relief and massive, long-term federal funding to help states weather the effects of climate change, state water managers and lawmakers said at a U.S. House hearing on Tuesday.
Nearly 90% of the West is now experiencing drought conditions, according to the federal U.S. Drought Monitor. The problem is particularly acute in the Southwest.
Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah just had their driest year in 126 years. Colorado had its fourth-driest year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Snowpack is well below average this year and early snowmelt is raising serious concerns for this summer…
‘No more time to waste’
The drought conditions are part of an ongoing, concerning trend — due in part to climate change.
“Warmer dryer conditions are expected to increase in the future, leading to extended and more severe drought and fire seasons,” said Craig McLean, acting chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Colorado River Basin is experiencing its driest 21-year-period in 100 years of record-keeping, according to the Interior Department. Extreme or exceptional drought is forecast to continue this year for most of the basin.
Reservoirs that the river feeds are already dangerously low. Lake Mead is at 37% capacity and Lake Powell is at 34%, according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
If hydrology levels continue, Entsminger said, there is a high probability that Lake Mead could get close to the point in the next decade where the Hoover Dam could no longer deliver water downstream and power production there could come to a halt…
But [John] Entsminger said the problem needs to go beyond what they can do at a state level, with a “focused and robust” federal investment in watershed conservation, water recycling and climate change response.
Biden administration plan
President Joe Biden included drought response in his massive infrastructure proposal, the American Jobs Plan. The proposal includes investment in “nature-based infrastructure” for climate resilience and water efficiency and recycling programs to address the drought crisis.
The Interior Department has also pulled together a favorite federal response, the interagency working group, to address drought relief. The group had its first meeting earlier this month and is working to coordinate funding and programs on drought resilience, according to Klein.
Biden also announced this week he would double the amount of federal funding to help states prepare for natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires.
Rep Jared Huffman, (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee that hosted the hearing, last week reintroduced his drought resiliency bill, H.R. 3404.
It would direct the federal government to invest more than $1 billion for various water projects, including water storage, recycling and desalination efforts…
Idaho’s Craig Foss, state forester at the Idaho Department of Lands, told lawmakers that more aggressive management of dry forests that are prone to wildfire would be one way to help.