Harsh Western Drought May Be the Norm, Say Scientists

The harsh drought that has been plaguing the American West in recent years is set to produce a raft of environmental, political, and social crises, but we’d better get used to it, say some scientists. Research into the drought cycles of the past 800 years increasingly suggests that the relatively wet weather in the West during the 20th century — which led to an explosion of development — was an aberration, and the current dry conditions are the norm. This would be, to put it mildly, bad news. Already, paltry snowfall in the Rocky Mountains has yielded a host of problems. The Colorado River, the water source for most of the region, is at historic lows. Lake Powell, the nation’s second-largest artificial lake, has lost nearly 60 percent of its water, constricting supply and curtailing hydroelectric power production. As drought continues, the bidding wars for remaining water will escalate, likely driving farmers out of business and putting intense stress on a body of Western water law that was developed decades ago, in wetter times.