Western Drought Pushes Communities to Combat it by New Means

A farmer, a rancher, and the rest of the western United States walk into a bar. What do they all order? Water.

The drought currently enveloping the west is receiving broad media attention – and rightfully so, as its severity worsens by the day. According to an article by Paul Rogers in the San Jose Mercury News, “The Sierra Nevada snowpack, a key source of water for farms and cities, was 13 percent of the historic average for this date. Most major cities received half or less of their average rainfall this year.“

The extremity of the drought has now pushed communities to take drastic actions.

For example, California, the most populous state enduring this drought, is looking at changing the way it delivers and charges for water. In response to the lack of precipitation, writes Felicity Barringer in the New York Times, nearly two-dozen of the 70-plus districts in the state have begun to “budget” water. “Use more than your allotment and it will cost you, about double, triple or quadruple your normal water bill.”

California’s farming communities aren’t faring any better.

Out of sheer desperation, water districts in Northern California are now asking to reverse the flow of the state’s 420-mile aqueduct – a practice previously unheard of. As Garance Burke of the Associated Press notes, “Districts will now receive 5 percent of the water they would get in a normal year.” In order for the Fresno-based Dudley Ridge Water District and others to help keep their crops alive, the districts want to move 30,000 acre-feet of water upstream.”

Meanwhile in the southwest, Texas is coming to terms with its own record drought. Tom Yulsman, blogger for DiscoveryMagazine.com, reports: “As of this week, 21 percent of Texas is categorized as being in exceptional drought — the most intense of the Drought Monitor categories. That’s up from 13 percent a year ago. Overall, more than 80 percent of the state is experiencing some degree of drought.

To prevent the spigot from running dry, the town of Wichita Falls is turning to toilets for its water. In a radio interview National Public Radio’s Shelley Kofler conducted with residents of Wichita Falls, she reports, “the city has built a 13-mile pipeline that connects its wastewater plant directly to the plant where water is purified for drinking. That means the waste that residents flush down their toilets will be part of what’s cleaned up and sent back to them through the tap.“