Analysis: The American West Is Drying Out. Things Will Get Ugly

Analysis: The American West Is Drying Out. Things Will Get Ugly

- in Politics

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(CNN)The incredible pictures of a depleted Lake Mead, on the California-Nevada border, illustrate the effects of drought brought on by climate change.

Later this year, the US government will almost certainly declare the first-ever water shortage along the Colorado River. Maps show more than a quarter of the US is in “exceptional drought,” underscoring the scope of a decades-long dry-out.

Stories are popping up across the West of possible rationing, coming restrictions and looming standoffs between farmers and the government over the most precious natural resource.

    Restrictions. States like Arizona and Nevada are almost guaranteed to have their water allotment from the Colorado River cut back, which through a complicated drought contingency tier system agreed to by states in 2019 will affect farmers first. But the warning signs are there for urban areas and surrounding states to conserve and evolve.

      In the San Francisco Bay Area, served by a different water system, residents are being asked to reduce water usage by 15% compared to 2019. Houseboats were removed from the state’s second-largest reservoir because the water level fell so low. The hydropower plant at the same reservoir may be forced offline for the first time because of low water.

        Standoff. To the north, there’s a sharp disagreement in Oregon between farmers cut off from water to irrigate their potatoes and federal officials trying to save an endangered species of fish.

        When CNN’s Lucy Kafanov reported from the Klamath Basin last week, she did her live shot from the parched bottom of a lake that should be feet deep.

          The farmers set up shop in a tent outside the canal headgate and were all but threatening to break in and open the gates themselves, like they did 20 years ago.

          The most visible and striking effect of the heat and drought is at Lake Mead, which is at its lowest levels since it was filled during construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s.

          Less snowpack and more evaporation from hot temperatures have taken their toll over the course of decades to the point where its dropped more than 140 feet since 2000 and sits at not much more than a third of its capacity.

          Now for an aside on the Hoover Dam, government spending and climate change.

          The dam: Talk about an infrastructure project! President Joe Biden came to office promising a New Deal-level investment in infrastructure. That’ll be pared back by three quarters if he’s to get any Republican help passing it,

          Government spending: The latest bipartisan proposal includes $5 billion to help address the Western water shortage, although larger pots of money are meant to improve water and power infr

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