Extreme drought now encompasses almost 10% of the country. In Texas, only 8% of the state is considered drought-free. Another 8.5% of the state is considered in “exceptional drought (D4),” the worst category on a four-point scale. The entirety of North Dakota is in a drought state while 78% of its southern neighbor is considered in drought, with conditions rated from moderate (D1) to extreme drought (D3). In Iowa, 39% of the state is suffering from abnormally dry conditions, or worse. In fact, pretty much all of the western half of the United States is parched to say the least.
“Dry is an understatement,” northeast Colorado farmer Marc Arnusch, whose farm may have to idle 60% of its acres in the face of irrigation water rationing, told Progressive Farmer. “Last week, our irrigation district issued a 5% pro-rate, which means many of our farms will have two to four days’ worth of irrigation water for the year.”
Water levels in the southwest will be getting low enough that water shortage declarations might be declared for the first time. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), water levels in two major lakes — Lake Powell and Lake Mead —are threatening the supply of water from the Colorado River which growing cities and farms rely on. The low supply in Lake Mede, the largest reservoir in the country, could also threaten electricity generation at Hoover Dam. It would be the lowest the lake has been since it was filled in the 1930s.
On March 5, Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack formerly declared 50 counties in California as “primary natural disaster areas” due to the drought. That designation makes those counties eligible for assistance from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), including FSA emergency loans.
“We write to urgently request for you to make a statewide declaration of emergency for the state of California,” said the group. “It is not a secret that we find ourselves yet again with a major drought. It is imperative we do all we can as elected leaders to ensure our constituents, and the communities they live in, have access to the resources they need during this time, namely water.”
So far, however, the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, has yet to make the move. The designation is a balancing acting between environmentalists and agriculture groups since it would give state officials more flexibility in managing water supply and each group would have its own priorities as to how it was utilized.
“We’re preparing to do many things as it relates to preparing ourselves for the reality formally of second drought conditions,” the governor responded. “As it relates to the specific declaration of emergency which has all kinds of component parts, we are not prepared to do that at this moment.”
The drought has also been affecting the topsoil conditions. According to the latest Crop Progress Report, 12 states are seeing more than half of its topsoil in short to very short conditions.
“We’ve had minuscule amounts of moisture,” Kim Saueressig, a farmer in McCluskey, North Dakota, tells AgWeb.com. “We probably really haven’t seen a decent rain since probably the first week in August last year. Last fall was our fastest harvest we’ve ever had. And so, to go from a wet fall in 2019 and a wet spring in 2020, to now, it’s a total turnaround.”
According to the USDA, 85% of New Mexico had short to very short topsoil moisture conditions, while 77% of Texas finds itself in that category. Worse off is North Dakota , which is seeing 83% of the state with topsoil conditions that are desperately dry.
Planting season doesn’t ramp up for a several weeks, so there is time for improvement. According to the USDA, as of April 12 only 4% of corn has been planted in the nation. Currently, droughts rank second in types of phenomena associated with billion-dollar weather disasters during the past three decades, with annual losses nearing $9 billion per year.