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Drought in Western States Spreading to the East

by Chris Poindexter

Those on America’s east coast might be forgiven for thinking the drought was primarily a west coast phenomenon, but it turns out that’s no longer the case. As the drought that has gripped California and the west continues, it’s eastern states, unaccustomed to water shortages, that are now facing increasingly arid conditions. In Alabama and Georgia, known for their lush green mountains, the drought is killing crops, threatening cattle and sinking lakes to some of their lowest levels in decades.

The deepening drought out west is now prompting meteorologists to start changing the terminology. They’re now calling the water shortage out west a “megadrought” to separate it from the relatively newer drought in our southern states.

The Difference Between Weather and Climate

It may seem surprising that California is still in drought conditions after being recently lashed by driving storms, a rare spectacle in the area around Los Angeles. To think that even several days of driving rains would put an end to drought conditions is to not understand the difference between weather and climate. The weather can be wet even while the climate remains dry enough to decimate entire economies; just what California is facing today. The rain did nothing to relieve the drought, though it did wet the surface soil enough to make mudslides a home-demolishing hazard.

Homes Are Next

In the Central Valley of California agriculture is suffering as water tables continue to decline, but agriculture is only the proverbial canary in a coal mine. Soon California’s water problems are going to start impacting residential areas, which are already under some of the harshest water restrictions in the nation. Homeowners in Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern counties are already facing the specter of residential wells that are running dry.

Blaming the Feds

Residents in the affected areas are blaming the Federal government. They claim the Feds are restricting water use in rivers to protect endangered species of fish and wildlife. Republicans in California, already facing an uphill demographic battle, then had to deal with Donald Trump coming to their state and defiantly announcing that there was no drought at a May rally in Fresno.

The Southern Drought

After five years of living in drought conditions, California is used to having no water. In southern states from Mississippi to Georgia they are used to having plenty of rainfall. This year cattle are dying, lakes are drying up and hay fields are tinder dry, sparking frequent brush fires. Georgia and Florida were previously locked in a bitter dispute over water that’s expected to go all the way to the Supreme Court. The current drought is making that already tense situation even worse.

Portions of Alabama and Georgia just logged the driest sixty days on record and it’s a bigger problem for them because their famous red clay soil is extremely poor at holding moisture. Some regional water authorities in Georgia have already seen the water levels dip below their intake pipes and bigger cities and more populated counties are scrambling to implement water restrictions.

On top of it all, the south logged one of the hottest summers on record. Record-setting heat is now a part of life in the south and the water shortage comes at a time when seasonal water demand is highest. It won’t be long before southern states are looking to California for strategies to limit water use even farther.

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