Severe drought, worsened by climate change, ravages the American West – The Denver Post

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — This year, New Mexican officials have a message for farmers who depend on irrigation water from the Rio Grande and other rivers: Unless you absolutely have to plant this year, don’t.

Years of warming temperatures, a failed rainy season last summer and low snowpack this winter have combined to reduce the state’s rivers to a relative trickle.

Severe drought — largely connected to climate change — is ravaging not only New Mexico but the entire western half of the United States, from the Pacific Coast across the Great Basin and desert Southwest and up through the Rockies to the Northern Plains.

In California, wells are drying up, forcing some homeowners to drill new ones that are deeper and costlier. Lake Mead, on the border of Arizona and Nevada, is so drained of Colorado River water that the two states are facing the eventual possibility of cuts in their supply. And 1,200 miles away in North Dakota, ranchers are hauling water for livestock and giving them supplemental forage, because the heat and dryness is stunting spring growth on the rangelands.

The most dramatic, and potentially deadly, effect of a drought that is as severe and widespread as any seen in the West are the wildfires that are raging amid hot, dry conditions. And this is well before the full blast of summer’s heat arrives.

California, Arizona and New Mexico have each had two large blazes, which is unusual this early in the year. None has been fully contained, including the Palisades Fire that has burned 1,200 acres on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

Officials are predicting when the fire season ends — if it ever does, as warming conditions have made fires possible year-round in some areas — the total could exceed the 10.3 million acres that burned last year.

“The signals and indications are that we are heading for another very dangerous fire year,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, whose department includes the U.S. Forest Service, said last week after he and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland were briefed by experts from the National Interagency Fire Center. “We’re seeing a higher level of risk and an earlier level of risk than we’ve seen in the past.”