Water Woes Forecasted for the West

Water Woes Forecasted for the West

West facing continued drought. West facing continued drought.

March 15, 2016

Spring and summer water supply estimates could spell trouble for farmers and ranchers in the West.

According to data from the USDA's National Resource Conservation Service, the snowpack growth we saw from record snowfall earlier this winter is now declining due to changing weather conditions.  Snowpack serves as an indicator of future water availability and forecasts of snowpack impact decisions made by individual producers and irrigation districts.

“December snows got us off to a strong start,” NRCS Hydrologist Cara McCarthy said. “But snowpack increases stalled in recent weeks throughout much of the West due to warm temperatures combined with lower precipitation.”

While snowpack levels in Oregon, Washington, Nevada and parts of California are now showing near normal levels, the hope for additional snow this season is ending.  Less snowpack means less streamflow and forecasters say streamflow is down by double-digits in some areas.  

"The most dramatic decrease is in the Southwest,” said McCarthy. “The streamflow forecast for the upper Colorado River basin fell by 20 percent since last month.”  That means trouble for Nevada, Arizona and California that are downriver and depend on the Colorado River for their water supply.    

View information by state.

The NRCS website explains snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal water supply in the West and "streamflow in the West consists largely of accumulated mountain snow that melts and flows into streams as temperatures warm in spring and summer. NRCS scientists analyze the snowpack, precipitation, air temperature and other measurements taken from remote sites to develop the water supply forecasts."

State level information is available for the twelve states monitored on the NRCS State Water Supply Outlook webpage.

USDA is committed to helping farmers and ranchers deal with drought.  And to learn more about how NRCS is helping private landowners deal with drought, visit the NRCS’ drought resources. 

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