WASHINGTON – Above-average snowfall has soothed drought worries for some states,but for others in the Southwest,the lack of water is still a serious threat.
Areas in New Mexico,Utah,Arizona and Nevada are of particular concern to officials who told a Senate subcommittee Tuesday that prolonged drought will cause serious problems in coming years.
“Some indicators of drought depict the current multi-year drought as one of the most severe in the past 40 to 100 years,” said Louis Uccellini,director of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction. “However,this winter season has seen improvement in many locations.”
As part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,the NCEP monitors short-term seasonal and climate changes to forecast weather and drought patterns.
Droughts are agriculture's most expensive and frequent natural disaster. They also deplete the environment and threaten the existence of some endangered species,according to Floyd Gaibler,a deputy undersecretary at the Department of Agriculture.
Recent “heavy winter storms” in the Sierra Nevada Mountains have improved California's drought outlook for the coming year by bringing snow depth to above-normal,said Brig. Gen. William T. Grisoli of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Mountain snow pack is like money in the bank for western water supplies,as the snow pack contributes anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the water supply in this region,” Uccellini said.
However,California's good fortune doesn't mean much to Nevada,New Mexico,Utah and Oregon,where current reservoir storage levels are at 50 percent or lower.
Farmers in the interior West are expected to be hit the hardest by summer as decisions are made to balance the needs of consumers,the environment,farmers,ranchers and recreational users,Uccellini said.
While the drought poses serious problems today,explosive population growth in the West is a major concern for drought forecasters,said Bennett Raley,assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior.
Recent research at NOAA has shown rising annual temperatures in the West have contributed to the drought by rapidly melting the snow pack. Some of the research has cited variations in Pacific and Indian Oceans temperatures as a possible cause.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman,D-N.M.,ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee,said an article from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory,part of the Energy Department,blames global warming.
“Global warming will diminish the amount of water stored as snow in the western United States by almost 70 percent … over the next 50 years,” Bingaman said. “Most of the problems of drought are directly related,or are going to be,directly related to this,whatever this phenomenon is,of global warming.”
Administration witnesses were careful not to mention global warming but also noted that there is a direct correlation between warming temperatures and the diminishing snow pack.