Moderate to severe drought spread from the US West Coast to the Rocky Mountains with large areas of extreme drought and pockets of exceptional drought, according to the latest monthly drought report from the National Centers for Environmental Information, while many residents in the west became much more nervous than those cold words.
“Our sagebrush is all dry, all the grass and everything we have,” Michael Badback, a 54-year-old Ute Mountain Ute man, said Sunday. “They’re mugworts. The roots go lower and lower to get water, but they don’t have the same color as before.”
The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is one of three federally recognized tribes of the Nuche or Ute people. Their tribal lands comprise 2,500 square kilometers in southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and small, isolated sections of Utah, where the Badback community is located.
According to US Drought Monitor statistics, the area of the western US experiencing moderate to exceptional drought was 73.5 percent at the end of October and the so-called Four Corners states, a region consisting of the southwestern corner of Colorado, the southeast corner of Utah, the northeast corner of Arizona, and the northwestern corner of New Mexico, bore the brunt of the disaster.
“Everything is dry and it’s hard to live,” said Badback, who grew up in White Mesa, a rural community in southeastern Utah with about 300 Native American residents. “I know we have this climate change, but they’re sagebrush, the last weed in a thousand years, and they’ve seen longer droughts.”
Badback said that because of the drought that lasted about 20 years in the west, many young members of the tribe left the community that was built in the 1950s and that the population had decreased year by year in the last two decades.
A study published this February by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) showed that the western US had spent the past two decades in the most extreme megadrought in at least 1,200 years. Meanwhile, the researchers noted that human-caused climate change was a major driver of the destructive conditions and offered a bleak forecast: drier decades still lie ahead.
“We now know from these studies that it is dry not just in the context of recent memory but in the context of the last millennium,” said Park Williams, a UCLA climate scientist and lead author of the study.
Spencer Dill, a farmer living in western Colorado, was also familiar with the word “megadrought.” He said his hometown near the Rocky Mountains still had plenty of rain and snow and heard that many people recently moved from the South, including the Colorado River Basin and Great Basin regions. More and more farmland and ranches turned into deserts due to the scarcity of water.
According to American Rivers, an influential Washington, DC-based river conservation organization, mandatory cutbacks caused by water shortages caused western states to lose large amounts of water supply. In Arizona’s Pinal County alone, more than 500,000 acre-feet (616.7 million cubic meters) of water were reduced.
Produced by Global Service