After a few consecutive drier-than-normal wet seasons, the west coast is facing possibly the worst drought it’s had in a hundred years. As of two weeks ago, water levels in almost all of California’s reservoirs were below 50 percent capacity, causing the state’s governor, Jerry Brown, to declare a state of emergency. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the wet season will pick up anytime soon either, as a new forecast predicts that water supplies will continue to dwindle.
The forecast comes from the National Water and Climate Center of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Although it doesn’t predict drought, it does predict future water supplies based on how much snowmelt will run off, providing residents with water. The majority of Oregonians rely on seasonal runoff as a water supply, but along with California, the state’s mountains have started to become bare.
“The chances of making up this deficit are so small that at this point we’re just hoping for a mediocre snowpack,” NRCS hydrologist Melissa Webb, said in a USDA statement. “We’d need months of record=breaking storms to return to normal. There’s a strong chance we’ll have water supply shortages across most of Oregon this summer.”
As the drought continues, health experts have warned that groundwater may become contaminated with dirt and other debris. According to Reuters, 10 California communities have already come to the point where they might run out of drinking water within 60 days. And among those that are rural, the risk of drinking highly contaminated water increases as contaminant concentrations rise.
“Small drinking water systems are especially vulnerable to drought conditions,” the California Department of Public Health said, according to Reuters. “They have fewer customers, which can mean fewer options in terms of resources like funding and infrastructure.” Indeed, one such water system belongs to the small community of Whispering Pines Apartments, where only 55 people reside.
The USDA is now planning to assist with $15 million in conservation assistance to farmers and ranchers throughout California, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, and New Mexico. That’s in addition to another $20 million to farmers in California and $5 million to communities throughout the state. Gov. Brown also unveiled a $687 million plan on Wednesday to help California— the most populated in the nation — deal with the drought.