Early Warning: California Declares Drought Emergency

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday officially declared a drought emergency in the Golden State, even though it is January, a month when the Sierra Nevada snowpack might be expected to be replenishing. But that hasn’t happened this winter.

“We can’t make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas,” Brown said.

The federal Natural Resources Conservation Council reported earlier this month that 2013 was the driest year in recorded history in California.

And the National Water and Climate Center reported last week that the first two weeks of January had produced a “striking” result across the southern half of the West: A complete lack of precipitation.

The map from West Texas through New Mexico, Arizona, much of Nevada and two-thirds of California is completely blank – as in, no precipitation.

What all of this means for Colorado may be too early to say, but there are already troubling signs on the plains in the southeast quadrant of the state, where December precipitation in many places was less than 50 percent of average.

This is the part of Colorado that has had serious stages of drought for the past three years, a parched area that also includes parts of West Texas, much of New Mexico, and western Kansas and Nebraska, a map not all that different looking from the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. The federal outlook through March 31 shows drought persisting or intensifying throughout that region.

On the brighter side, the current snowpack in the central and northern Rockies and in northwest Colorado is looking good.

But a drought emergency in California this early in the year doesn’t bode well for anyone. A seven state Western region, from Wyoming and Colorado to California, is tied together water-wise, after all, by the Colorado River Compact. In a very real sense, we are all in it together.



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