Drought Is Sucking Lifeblood of Towns, Economy Nationwide

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Drought Is Sucking Lifeblood of Towns, Economy Nationwide -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Drought Is Sucking Lifeblood of Towns, Economy Nationwide Sunday, August 11, 2002


PINE, Ariz. -- From quaint mountain towns to cattle ranches and even the downtown streets of big cities, a dry spell that for some states rivals the most severe on record is wreaking economic and environmental havoc on much of the nation.

More than one-third of the 48 contiguous states is now in severe to extreme drought, while more than half of the country is experiencing at least moderate drought conditions, experts say. The problem is most acute in the West, where every state but Washington is in some stage of drought. Overall, the dry spell isn't as prolonged or as widespread as droughts of the 1930s and '50s. But the drought of 2002 may well go down in history as one of the most far-reaching in impact, thanks to growth spurts that have increased competition for what little water there is.

"We have more people and more development in areas that we weren't in before. Whether it be golf courses or grass yards . . . that use of water is straining a finite resource," said Mark Svoboda, climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska. Ranchers are selling off herds. Fishing and hunting guides are losing clients. Home¬owners face fines if they soak gardens on the wrong day. Some residents have run out of water completely, their towns forced to haul it in. Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska. In the West, the drought turned a typical fire season treacherous, helping to spark more blazes that rapidly spread out of control. National forests closed their gates over fears that a campfire would ignite browning trees and brush.

Even wildlife and insects are feeling the effects. Thousands of animals have flocked from forests to suburbs in search of food. Antelope fawns are dying. The Colorado state bird, the lark bunting, is almost nonexistent in its home state -- driven out by dwindling food and water supplies. In Nebraska, the opposite problem: A drought-induced infestation of grasshoppers and crickets is ravaging crops.

Across the country, losses are still being calculated. But in Nebraska, the total economic impact of the drought is at least $1.4 billion. In Colorado, farmers will lose an estimated $100 million on the winter wheat crop. In Arizona, officials predict $300 million in losses in the livestock industry alone. In some parts of the Southeast, from Georgia through South and North Carolina and into Virginia, rainfall is 60 inches below normal.

In the Southwest, it is a similar story. Precipitation was 45 percent of normal through June in New Mexico, making this the eighth driest year since 1895. Arizona received less than an inch of rain in the same period, compared with an average 4.6 inches. The desert is so dry that cracks up to 6 feet wide have formed on parched land. In Colorado, snowpacks were 60 percent of average this year. That meant less runoff into the two main storage reservoirs for the Colorado River Basin, which supplies water to seven Western states.

Lake Powell, on the Arizona-Utah border, stands at 63 percent of capacity while Nevada's Lake Mead is 67 percent full and could hit a 30-year low later this year.

Forecasters hope summer rains bring some relief, although the eastern hurricane season and the western monsoons have yet to produce any major storms.


-- Martin (Martin@aol.com), August 11, 2002

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