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Extreme Drought And Its Challenges To The US's Clean Water Supply

by Jenny Hoffner

This summer we have seen and felt the impacts of one of the worst droughts in the last 50 years. As of late June, over 55% of the country was experiencing moderate to extreme drought. The map to the right illustrates the drought's far-reaching impacts; and while the most extreme effects are being felt in middle of the country, regions typically associated with "wet weather" like the Great Lakes, Southeast and Northeast regions are also feeling the heat. While a drought of this magnitude is not entirely predictable, its consequences are. Farmers across the country are losing crops, businesses are losing revenue, communities are scrambling to address dwindling drinking water sources and neighbors battle over access to scarce supplies.

The drought looks different across the country:
The Great Lakes region has experienced unusually high temperatures and drought conditions this summer. Traditionally a wet weather region, the Great Lakes, our largest source of freshwater, and related rivers and streams have seen increased water temperatures and lowered water levels which has had negative effects on both humans and fish. Warm water temperatures are breeding grounds for algal blooms, which are a human public health risk and can be detrimental for cold-water fish.

The Rocky Mountain West has also experienced a catastrophic drought. After record-breaking fires blazed across the region this spring, they are now experiencing a serious water supply shortage. The two main reservoirs along the Colorado River – Lake Powell and Mead – are only at 64 percent of their capacity and the prospect of continued drought threatens the area even more.

In the Corn Belt region, farmers have been hit hard as many watch their crops struggle due to lack of water. Both the Washington Post and New York Times highlighted the impacts of the Corn Belt drought including significantly lower yields which are predicted to push up crop prices, and has the potential to increase food prices as well.

In the Southeast's contested Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin, the state of Georgia put a moratorium on agricultural withdrawal permits in the lower Flint and Chattahoochee basins due to prolonged drought conditions and extremely low river flows. 

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