Western mega drought – will the southwest ever be the same?
Jun 17, 2021 at 5:41 pm #3719092
I lived in Phoenix from 2006 to 2015 and I hiked extensively throughout Arizona and southern Utah. The 20 year drought was just starting to get under way then, but it still wasn’t near as bad as it is now. In 2000 Lake Mead was flowing over the top of Hoover Dam, so the cumulative effects of the drought had yet to be fully realized when I moved back east. Now climatologists are saying we’re in the the worst southwestern drought in 1200 years. Then there’s the huge population growth which has taken place throughout Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Combine that with the record number of western wildfires and I’m wondering if the few forested areas of the states I mentioned will even survive. I was planning on moving to southern Utah in a couple of years, but now I’m questioning what the water crisis is going to do to the whole fabric of life out there. Maybe I’m just letting the media hype get me overly concerned, yet the evidence can’t be denied. Lake Mead is down to 37% capacity and all of the other southwest reservoirs are at never seen before lows. So it has me wondering what the future will bring to the that part of the country. Doesn’t appear as if the rains will be returning anytime soon. The Ozarks are starting to look better all the time… however the mega drought might be headed that way next.Jun 17, 2021 at 6:20 pm #3719093
Nope. Will never be like it was, at least not in our lifetimes. Reviewing very long term data (the past 20,000 years or so) it appears that what we are calling “drought“ is actually normal in the big picture.
after the past few years of wildfires I’m thinking that my seasons for the sierra Nevada will not include summer anymore.
I had been looking to retire in Northern California, but the more I look the farther north my search takes me, from Oregon all the way up to and including Alaska.Jun 17, 2021 at 6:21 pm #3719094MarcusBPL Member
I was just reading this (paywalled)
And it looks bad to me. Many of the springs around me that normally run all year or late into the summer are at a trickle and falling quickly already. Some are dry.Jun 17, 2021 at 6:43 pm #3719095J-LBPL Member
I’m in Arizona and have been for 15 years. Almost every year lately, a different wilderness/forest/desert area I’ve been to has burned. Right now, the Pinnacle fire is burning one of my favorites (the Santa Teresas). I’ve gotten to know a couple of the ranchers out there and they’re having to evacuate today.
It’s unlikely any of these areas will return to how they were in the next 100 years. Desert saguaros aren’t fire resistant and don’t grow quickly. Even they are struggling with the drought. Young Ponderosa pines are not as tolerant of droughts or high temperature as older trees, so forests may not re-grow in areas where they’ve burned.Jun 17, 2021 at 7:12 pm #3719096John BBPL Member
@jnb0216Locale: western Colorado
I have lived in Colorado since 1978, this year really bad. Lived in SW Colorado for the past five years–looking out my window right now and seeing lot of smoke/haze from fires near Moab, UT and several fires in Arizona and NM. Not sure at this point how many of my trips/plans will come to fruition due to the tinder dry conditions. Saddest of all is that several of these fires were human caused–it’s bad enough if all that happen is nature caused……Jun 17, 2021 at 7:49 pm #3719098Rex SandersBPL Member
The Southwestern U.S. has been through megadroughts before. And survived, just fine, with Indigenous people, plants, animals, ponds, lakes, and rivers evolving, migrating, or dying.
What’s different now? Too many mostly European colonists (like me) expecting an unchanging environment, yet making massive changes to that environment in order to support unsustainable lifestyles.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Percy Shelley, Ozymandias, 1818
— RexJun 17, 2021 at 9:54 pm #3719103
We are our own worst enemies. We’re doing our best to turn Earth into Venus.
I read an article recently that gave me some hope, in a twisted sort of way. Because of all the chemicals we have put into the environment, the fertility rate of humans all over the world has been dropping every year for the last 40 years, and averages 67% less now than then. In 20 years it will be zero, and we will have become our own solution to the environmental disaster we’ve made as the poisons we have created will soon render us incapable of reproducing.
I never thought I would say it, but I’m glad I won’t live another 50 years. I feel bad for my kids, and I can’t even think about my grandchildren.Jun 18, 2021 at 5:05 am #3719107
It’s not just the SW. The Gulf coast of FL, AL, MS, LA and TX have been devastated by hurricanes over the past handful of years. More and stronger hurricanes than at any time since records have been kept. In those cases where the wind fields have not simply wiped the land clean, the multiple feet of water destroyed or ruined most all man-made structures and altered natural features for generations to come. While there may be an element of natural patterns involved, it’s impossible for me to believe that humans are not also responsible for this increase in number and severity of storms.
My favorite park, Torreya State Park about 30 mi. west of Tallahassee on the Apalachicola river was for all practical purposes completely destroyed by hurricane Michael two years ago. From wikipedia:
…the first Category 5 hurricane to strike the contiguous United States since Andrew in 1992. In addition, it was the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in the contiguous United States in terms of pressure…It was the first Category 5 hurricane on record to impact the Florida Panhandle, the fourth-strongest landfalling hurricane in the contiguous United States, in terms of wind speed, and the most intense hurricane on record to strike the United States in the month of October.
This storm made landfall at Mexico beach FL and the eastern edge of the eye passed directly over the park. 100% of the trees over 24″ in dia were blown down. 90% of the trees between 10″ and 24″ in dia were either blown down or severly damaged with those still standing simply waiting to die. Trees smaller than 10″ were also severely damaged or destroyed. In other words, nature ran a giant lawn mower over the park…it is unrecognizable. Of course, since the sun now beats directly on the ground, all of the brush and weeds took over. The park is now a solid impenetrable thicket of head-high brush. If you have ever seen a recently harvested field of planted pines…that’s what this park looked like after the storm.
I’m certain that all of the other Gulf coast communities unlucky enough to have suffered a direct or near hit have been similarly impacted. These places will not resemble what we knew of them for 100 years or more.Jun 18, 2021 at 5:53 am #3719108
Very sorry to hear that about Torreya SP John. I lived in Panama City for 5 years and I used to make the 30 mile drive there on a frequent basis in order to go trail running. It’s the hilliest park in all of Florida and it was fully shaded along the 2 long loops. So Sad. Hurricane Michael was almost as powerful as Camille in 69, but Camille hit a much less populated area of Mississippi. I worked in the horse business in Panama City and after the hurricane I called some of my old customers. They told me all was lost and that it looked like Hiroshima after the atomic bomb attack. I left there in 2006 and I guess it was a good thing I did.
Yes, paleo climatologists say there have been prolonged droughts in the west for thousands of years, however, many climatologists are now maintaining that the CO2 emissions from human activity have greatly exacerbated the effects with more frequent, longer lasting, more widespread and hotter periods of drought than cycles of past millennia. So the whole notion that this is just past of a natural cycle isn’t entirely true. I read a journal article yesterday which posits humans are responsible for about half of the severe western drought we’re seeing now. I think that sounds plausible.Jun 18, 2021 at 6:00 am #3719109Alex HBPL Member
@abhittLocale: southern appalachians or desert SW
Monty, I lived in Texas and Utah from 72-80 and they were talking then about running out of water. I too moved East and have been a farmer for 40 years, intimately watching as the climate has changed and every weather record set during that time. I have made many trips back west to backpack and watched the changes there too. We have talked about maybe retiring to Southern Utah or NM but have realized there will not be enough water to responsibly move there. NC looks better all the time.Jun 18, 2021 at 6:44 am #3719110John BBPL Member
@jnb0216Locale: western Colorado
It’s instructive to read “Cadillac Desert” by Marc Reisner originally published in 1986. He highlights our drive to treat the US west as if it was eastern US (i.e. has unlimited water supplies). We can’t continue to sustain a lifestyle and (especially) an agricultural system that we have at present.Jun 18, 2021 at 8:28 am #3719113
John’s comment about agriculture seems very important to me. According to this 2010 study from UofA, agriculture uses the majority of the water in our state. While it appears there is a huge opportunity to save water in this sector I am concerned that corporate interests and thoughtless consumer demand will prevail and the focus is about to become low flush toilets, washing cars, and xeriscaping. It’s going to take a LOT of low flush toilets to fix this problem.Jun 18, 2021 at 8:32 am #3719114Jun 18, 2021 at 9:31 am #3719120
I have long maintained that I did not care what the food was, as long as it tasted good. Carnivore, Vegetarian, Vegan, whatever…as long as it tastes good I’m happy to eat it. However in my experience Impossible Burger is not only astoundingly close to beef in appearance, taste, smell and mouth feel, but really freaking tasty regardless. I have heard anecdotally of blind tests where participants actually preferred the Impossible to beef.
To learn that another benefit of Impossible is much less water consumed makes me even more determined to eat it when given a choice.Jun 18, 2021 at 1:50 pm #3719165Scott HBPL Member
I have made jokes for years that I have a no snakes and gators rule, I won:t live anywhere that has a combination of the two. The rule was about climactic factors as gators tend to live in places that are flat, wet, hot and humid. Now I keep expanding that list as we see climactic conditions worsen in certain areas regardless of causality. So now I have no interest in living in any part of the US south of I-70 and west of Allegheny mountains. As you go past the Allegheny I would not live anywhere South of I-80 but still would not live anywhere in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota and a bunch of other states. I have lived in Illinois, I just don:t want to live there again. I have no interest in ever living near a coastal area subject to Hurricanes, rising oceans or similar factors. Lots of places I don:t mind visiting but some places look like they are becoming nearly unlivable. Lots of place I want to visit or hike someday in the west though.
To me parts of California look like they are headed towards unfit for human habitation.Jun 18, 2021 at 2:11 pm #3719172
I agree that parts of California are headed towards uninhabitable, but I would wager that there are a number of other places in the US that will get there first. Anywhere in Arizona or Nevada certainly comes to mind because of the heat and dry conditions, as do large portions of the gulf coast and probably most of Florida because of heat, hurricanes, flooding and sea level rise.
The bottom line in my thinking is that I have been very fortunate that climate change had not impacted the world much for the great majority of my lifetime and I/we still have an opportunity to enjoy them before it’s all gone. Motivates me to get out there and live in wilderness as much as much as I can while it’s still possible.Jun 18, 2021 at 3:55 pm #3719179Geoff CaplanBPL Member
@geoffcaplanLocale: Lake District, Cumbria
Boy, this makes depressing reading.
I know we’re supposed to keep away from politics here, but I can’t help but point out that the US is pretty much the only advanced country where one of the major parties is denying the impact of man-made climate change.
The irony is that most of the models suggest the US will be hit earlier and harder than most other areas. It really does look as though we’re seeing this already with drought in the South West, hurricanes in the South East and ice-storms down the East Coast.
There really is a big education job ahead if we’re to convince a solid majority of US voters to back the radical measures needed to avert this looming disaster. We can all play a part, however small, by educating ourselves on the issues and challenging disinformation constructively whenever we see it.Jun 18, 2021 at 7:25 pm #3719204
In America, everyone has the right to be stupid. Unfortunately a very large percentage of the population seems to insist on being just that.Jun 18, 2021 at 8:01 pm #3719217Tom KBPL Member
Regarding the Southwest, I find myself wondering what will happen after they tap into the aquifer beneath the Great Basin and suck it dry. If it collapses, recharge will be impossible and the area will be forever changed, with unpredictable consequences. But that is a parochial perspective. When considering the larger picture, I have faith that Earth will abide long after Mother Nature has sloughed us off like so much dead skin. Somewhere in the Marianas Trench a single cell organism will emerge from the primordial muck, find the environment to its liking, and begin the long journey of evolution in the direction of increasingly complex life forms all over again.Jun 19, 2021 at 7:03 am #3719238
I agree with your assessment Geoff, but I think the people of Oz might beg to differ as to which continent is being most adversely effected by global warming. From what I understand down under was like Dante’s Inferno last summer. Record high temperatures and wildfires the likes of which have never been seen before.
I believe the majority of Americans accept the notion that CO2 emissions are heating up our planet, but good luck getting many of them to change their lifestyles. I do all kinds of backpacking and urban stealth is one type I enjoy (I know, not for everyone, please don’t judge). Anyway, when I walk along the streets of small to medium sized American cities, the one dominant thing that jumps out at me is the absolute dependence most Americans have on their cars. Sure, parts of some cities such as NYC and Chicago may not require a motorcar, yet mass transit in most US cities is substandard and inefficient. Suburbs and bedroom communities rely mostly on commuting by automobile, so even if you wanted to use mass transit you’d be hard pressed. And this may not sound PC, but crime is getting so bad in many urban areas now that many people wouldn’t dare ride mass transit even if it was available, especially if they’re female. Creepy men with zero manners run roughshod throughout the cities over here. In today’s climate they enjoy near impunity from the law too.
So overall Americans are generally addicted to their cars and that’s also one of the reasons they tend to be so fat. When I walk around most cities it’s just a constant zoom zoom zoom of cars going by and more times than not it’s only one person inside. Often they’re driving an SUV or something with a bigger carbon footprint than they truly need. Indulgence, trips around the the world, consumer culture, big houses and a constant FOMO (fear of missing out) driven by social media makes the US a nation of gluttonous people. Those on the left politically do tend to have a better sense of the environment, however there are millions of hypocrites among their ranks who consume huge amounts of natural resources and emit tons of CO2. Sure, they may talk about global warming, but good luck getting Americans to change their lifestyles in any significant way to bring down carbon emissions. And with the petro-chemical and auto industries’ billions spent in lobbying and PR every year, not much will happen.Jun 19, 2021 at 1:48 pm #3719256HkNewmanBPL Member
@hknewmanLocale: The West is (still) the Best
It’s been hotter than usual so everyone interested in hiking “the West” really needs to be up on conditions. Many springs and other water sources can go dry as well, so may want to wait until past the next flooding rains (whenever) at a minimum. Last years monsoon rains became the “nonsoon”.
That’s hiking. Suburban-type developments are still being planned in the desert as the rule of thumb is a 100 year supply of groundwater to start building new structures. Think Buckeye west of Phoenix has 3 sprawling ranches being considered at 300,000 units apiece (homes, central shopping, water features – probably efficient tbf, etc.. ). Tbf other construction may be a bit more eco-friendly though still out in the desert..
Someone told me mostly Californians were (until recently) buying Arizona homes for cash and $10k-$15k higher then asking. Maybe that’s been put on the back burner?Jun 19, 2021 at 5:09 pm #3719264Geoff CaplanBPL Member
@geoffcaplanLocale: Lake District, Cumbria
I once had a rather surreal experience in San Diego that illustrated your point about car-addiction.
I was staying in a nice boutique hotel a mile or two from the Gaslamp Quarter. I had a few hours to spare so thought I would check out the town.
When I asked about public transport the desk staff just laughed, but they said it should be safe to walk so I set off.
There was a wide sidewalk by a busy road, but I realised that pedestrianism might not be much of a thing in San Diego when I noticed large shrubs growing up through the paving. I’ve never seen anything comparable in Europe in all my years of travel…
Then I was stopped by a couple of cops in a cruiser who questioned me about what they seemed to consider the highly suspicious activity of walking along a busy city-center street at 11:00 am.
As soon as they heard my accent they said: “Oh – you’re British – that explains it!” and drove off.
More generally, I think that tackling this problem by expecting millions of people to make voluntary personal sacrifices will never be realistic. It’s going to take exciting new technologies that tempt people away from their old habits by saving them money or adding new benefits. Plus some courageous government taxes on the old polluting industries and incentives to emerging green alternatives.
But that’s a big topic for another place…Jun 19, 2021 at 5:39 pm #3719267
HK – You mention real estate prices in AZ. My perception is they are rising at an unsustainable rate over the last ~12 months. I feel like we have a bubble that’s going to burst and a dry, smokey summer might be the catalyzing event.Jun 20, 2021 at 5:30 pm #3719384Buck NelsonBPL Member
And this too, shall pass. See the 2019 map above. Very little drought in the west only two years ago. People are using too much water, but it does look like the world’s population will start going down in the future. Not too many years ago a human population apocalypse was predicted. Acid rain was constantly talked about. Then the hole in the ozone.
Again, look at the drought maps above and how quickly things can change. There are vast amounts of forests. New forests spring up after fires. Droughts tend to ease. And this, too, shall pass.Jun 21, 2021 at 9:52 pm #3719526Tom KBPL Member
“And this, too, shall pass.”
As shall we, if we don’t get our collective act together.
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