The Van Trump Report

Drought Impacting Rangeland, Water Supplies in West

Drought is plaguing a large portion of the U.S. with more dire conditions building to the West and in parts of the Midwest. According to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, moderate to exceptional drought covers almost 40% of the United States, with the worst drought categories (extreme to exceptional drought) at about 15.7%.

In the last half-year, much of western Texas outside the Panhandle has received only 15% to 35% of normal precipitation, according to the latest update. Since mid-September, precipitation totals were 4 to locally 8 inches below normal across central and northeastern Texas, southern Oklahoma, and adjacent Arkansas. Drought is more entrenched farther west in Teas, where many conditions declined further in areas near New Mexico.

Colorado is also severely dry with the entire state experiencing some level of drought. About three-quarters of the state is in severe drought while almost all of western Colorado is in the most severe classification of exceptional drought. Exceptional drought is said to be particularly intense in the four corners region near New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.

We should also be paying very close attention to the dry conditions throughout a large portion of Iowa, parts of Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, etc. The media might give a lot of attention to the drought happening out West or down South but the ag markets are going to be paying very close attention to the Midwest states mentioned above. 

The dry conditions are impacting ranchers with around 45% of the U.S. cattle inventory in a drought-stricken area. That has left more ranchers turning to hay this year with the conditions the worst they’ve been in several years for many producers. About 36% of U.S. hay area is also in an area experiencing drought.

Another problematic side effect is the impact on the Colorado River Basin, located in the western half of the state with some of the worst conditions. The Colorado River is actually in the 21st year of a severe drought which has caused severe depletions in the Lake Mead and Lake Powell reservoirs. Lake Mead now stands at just 40% of its full capacity, while the upstream reservoir Lake Powell is 48% full. Water deliveries were reduced last year to Arizona and Nevada under those states’ agreement with California. And the two states, along with Mexico, will again leave some of their allocated water in Lake Mead in 2021 as part of the effort to shore up the reservoir’s levels.

The latest Bureau of Reclamation’s projections show that in a scenario of continuing drought between now and 2025, the chances of Lake Mead falling into a shortage has increased to nearly 80%. Compared with earlier projections this spring, the latest results show an increase by as much as 12% in the chances of Lake Mead and Lake Powell falling to critically low levels within five years. (Sources: U.S. Drought Monitor, USDA, NCEI, USBR)

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