US braces itself as drought threatens to move west

The drought that caused such widespread problems for much of the eastern US last summer could affect the west in the coming months, the US Government has warned.

Lower than normal water levels in US rivers coupled with low groundwater levels indicate that last summer’s devastating drought could move westward, according to US Geological Survey researchers.

The drought, which was caused by temperatures of up to 38oC, led to widespread water and electricity shortages and killed more than 50 people and thousands of livestock and fish.

Data from the USGS network of more than 7,000 streamgages shows there are some areas of the country – particularly east of the Mississippi River – where streamflows are at record-low flows for this time of year.

“This is the time of year where streamflow conditions should be about normal, but in the eastern half of the country, we’re anywhere but that,” USGS Director Charles G. Groat said. “We should be seeing groundwater recharge taking place now and we’re not seeing that either.”

The USGS believes the latest streamgage readings show that the drought is moving west, into the Appalachians and the southeast. These are areas that – unlike the eastern seaboard – did not receive fresh water during last year’s hurricane season. Streamflows in the Ohio Valley, the centre of the Midwest, the Lower Mississippi River Basin and in the southeastern US are also approaching record low levels.

“This is the time of year we are supposed to be recharging our groundwater and reservoirs,” Groat said. “That hasn’t happened this winter and so we don’t have the buffer we need when we start making withdrawals in the summer. When our dry summer hits, we may not have enough saved to get through without problems. We anticipate additional drought problems in the months ahead based on the low volume of surface and groundwater we’re seeing now.”

The USGS proposes investing more than $6 million in its real-time streamgaging network over the next two years.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie