From New Mexico to the eastern slopes of the Cascades, the West is suffering from a sixth year of drought. Various combinations of thin snowpack, hot weather in spring and summer causing premature runoff, and scant summer rain are to blame.
The drought is a contributing factor to
wildfires which have burned over 2 million acres this year. Around
the West, wildlife is also suffering.
Tunell, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Denver,
says a high-pressure system parked over the Rocky Mountains through
late July prevented moisture from coming into the region, a problem
that occurs about once a decade. Most thunderstorms forming over
the region brought lightning and thunder but little
In Washington, Idaho and Colorado, farmers
are running out of water. Some of Colorado's rivers are so low,
only the most senior water rights are being honored. In Utah, it is
likely that public-land managers will tell ranchers to take
livestock off allotments early.
"The majority of
our snowpack went directly into the atmosphere" through
evaporation, says Randall Julander, a snow specialist with the Soil
Conservation Service in Utah. Temperatures climbed above 100
degrees Fahrenheit for more than 45 days in parts of southern Utah,
drying up many streams and springs.
Rain in June
and July failed to make up for a snow-poor winter in the Northwest,
and reservoirs are so low on the Columbia, Snake and Salmon rivers
that hydro dams have scaled back generation of electricity. Water
is still being released for farming and to support salmon, which
are feeling one more stress.
Pat Ford, of Save
Our Wild Salmon in Boise, says decreased water in the upper Salmon
and Columbia rivers makes it harder for salmon to find habitat for
egg-laying. The drought impacts juvenile salmon even more, says
Ford, because they depend on the current to "push" them through
reservoirs to the Pacific Ocean.
high lakes and reservoirs now may leave no safety margin if next
summer is also dry.
Federal agencies are left
with few options to help salmon later, says Ford. "It's bad news.
Mother Nature is the only tool we can turn to. Salmon advocates are
praying for a good winter."
Meanwhile, in the
Southwest and Colorado, drought has increased encounters between
humans and black bears. Deprived of berries and other forage in the
dry high country, black bears are coming into populated valleys and
"At this time of year they're trying
to put on fat for the winter," says Todd Malmsbury, a spokesman for
the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
lack of water and scarce prey has forced mountain lions to range
over a larger area than usual, says Rich Beaudy, of the Arizona
Game and Fish Department. This July, a mountain lion injured a
2-year-old in Arizona's Tonto National Forest, and another lion
attacked a pet goat while the owner stood nearby, reports the
Dry conditions were also cited
in a bear attack near Trinidad, Colo. A 14-year-old boy suffered
minor injuries in late July, when a bear wandered onto a back porch
and ripped through a tent where the boy and a friend were sleeping.
Twenty miles south of Trinidad in Raton, N.M., more than a dozen
bears have wandered into town, although residents report no
* Bob Wilson, HCN