April 1, 2023
How have the winter storms impacted the drought?
Much of the West remains in drought but conditions are improving, according to maps from the National Integrated Drought Information System, which rates the severity of droughts on a scale of “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought.”

Between the strong snowpack and a wet forecast for March, some parts of California, Nevada and Utah could be removed from the drought map this month, according to seasonal outlooks from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center. Others are likely to see rating upgrades, NBC news reported Monday.

In California, “this drought will be over for some parts of the state in some ways. The reservoirs are mostly going to fill,” said Jay Lund, the vice director of watershed sciences at the University of California, Davis. “We’re still likely to see some ecological problems in the forest and with endangered fish species for a bit longer, but I think we’re into a much more normal year.”

But the promising snow season won’t paper over Western states’ long-term water problems, which still require urgent, large-scale reductions in use.

In California, groundwater supplies are overdrafted each year, he said.

“In the southern part of the Central Valley, almost every year, they’re pumping more water than is recharged,” Lund said. “That’s very much a long-term problem. It will take some long-term reductions in water demand.”

Overuse concerns are even more urgent in the Colorado River Basin, where states continue to negotiate over how to cut water use as reservoir levels drop to concerning levels. About 40 million people depend on the Colorado River’s water supply, which has diminished during drought over the last 23 years and because of overuse.

The snowpack will provide a modest boost.

The Bureau of Reclamation forecasts that inflows into Lake Powell from February through July will be about 17% above average as snow melts and drains through the river system. Powell is one of the two largest and most important reservoirs in the Colorado River system. The lake’s elevation is projected to rise by about 40 feet by the end of July, the bureau’s data suggests.
Story Date: March 24, 2023
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