Another Dangerous Fire Season is Looming in the Western U.S., and the Drought-Stricken Region is Headed for a Water Crisis

By Mojtaba Sadegh, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, Boise State University, Amir AghaKouchak, Associate Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of California, Irvine, and John Abatzoglou, Associate Professor of Engineering, University of California, Merced. Originally published at The Conversation

Just about every indicator of drought is flashing red across the western U.S. after a dry winter and warm early spring. The snowpack is at less than half of normal in much of the region. Reservoirs are being drawn down, river levels are dropping and soils are drying out.

It’s only May, and states are already considering water use restrictions to make the supply last longer. California’s governor declared a drought emergency in 41 of 58 counties. In Utah, irrigation water providers are increasing fines for overuse. Some Idaho ranchers are talking about selling off livestock because rivers and reservoirs they rely on are dangerously low and irrigation demand for farms is only just beginning.

Scientists are also closely watching the impact that the rapid warming and drying is having on trees, worried that water stress could lead to widespread tree deaths. Dead and drying vegetation means more fuel for what is already expected to be another dangerous fire season.

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters on May 13, 2021, that federal fire officials had warned them to prepare for an extremely active fire year. “We used to call it fire season, but wildland fires now extend throughout the entire year, burning hotter and growing more catastrophic in drier conditions due to climate change,” Vilsack said.

As climate scientists, we track these changes. Right now, about 84% of the western U.S. is under some level of drought, and there is no sign of relief.

The U.S. Drought Monitor for mid-May shows nearly half of the West in severe or extreme drought. National Drought Mitigation Center/USDA/NOAA

The Many Faces of Drought

Several types of drought are converging in the West this year, and all are at or near record levels.

When too little rain and snow falls, it’s known as meteorological drought. In April, precipitation across large parts of the West was less than 10% of normal, and the lack of rain continued into May.

Rivers, lakes, streams and groundwater can get into what’s known as hydrological drought when their water levels fall. Many states are now warning about low streamflow after a winter with less-than-normal snowfall and warm spring temperatures in early 2021 speeding up melting. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Lake Mead, a giant Colorado River reservoir that provides water for millions of people, is on pace to fall to levels in June that could trigger the first federal water shortage declaration, with water use restrictions across the region.

Dwindling soil moisture leads to another problem, known as agricultural drought. The average soil moisture levels in the western U.S. in April were at or near their lowest levels in over 120 years of observations.

Four signs of drought. Climate Toolbox

These factors can all drive ecosystems beyond their thresholds – into a condition called ecological drought – and the results can be dangerous and costly. Fish hatcheries in Northern California have started trucking their salmon to the Pacific Ocean, rather than releasing them into rivers, because the river water is expected to be at historic low levels and too warm for young salmon to tolerate.

Snow Drought

One of the West’s biggest water problems this year is the low snowpack.

The western U.S. is critically dependent on winter snow slowly melting in the mountains and providing a steady supply of water during the dry summer months. But the amount of water in snowpack is on the decline here and across much of the world as global temperatures rise.

Several states are already seeing how that can play out. Federal scientists in Utah warned in early May that more water from the snowpack is sinking into the dry ground where it fell this year, rather than running off to supply streams and rivers. With the state’s snowpack at 52% of normal, streamflows are expected to be well below normal through the summer, with some places at less than 20%.

Snowpack is typically measured by the amount of water it holds, known as snow water equivalent. National Resource Conservation Service

Anthropogenic Drought

It’s important to understand that drought today isn’t only about nature.

More people are moving into the U.S. West, increasing demand for water and irrigated farmland. And global warming – driven by human activities like the burning of fossil fuels – is now fueling more widespread and intense droughts in the region. These two factors act as additional straws pulling water from an already scarce resource.

As demand for water has increased, the West is pumping out more groundwater for irrigation and other needs. Centuries-old groundwater reserves in aquifers can provide resilience against droughts if they are used sustainably. But groundwater reserves recharge slowly, and the West is seeing a decline in those resources, mostly because water use for agriculture outpaces their recharge. Water levels in some wells have dropped at a rate of 6.5 feet (2 meters) per year.

The result is that these regions are less able to manage droughts when nature does bring hot, dry conditions.

Rising global temperatures also play several roles in drought. They influence whether precipitation falls as snow or rain, how quickly snow melts and, importantly, how quickly the land, trees and vegetation dry out.

Extreme heat and droughts can intensify one another. Solar radiation causes water to evaporate, drying the soil and air. With less moisture, the soil and air then heat up, which dries the soil even more. The result is extremely dry trees and grasses that can quickly burn when fires break out, and also thirstier soils that demand more irrigation.

Alarmingly, the trigger for the drying and warming cycle has been changing. In the 1930s, lack of precipitation used to trigger this cycle, but excess heat has initiated the process in recent decades. As global warming increases temperatures, soil moisture evaporates earlier and at larger rates, drying out soils and triggering the warming and drying cycle.

Fire Warnings Ahead

Hot, dry conditions in the West last year fueled a record-breaking wildfire season that burned over 15,900 square miles (41,270 square kilometers), including the largest fires on record in Colorado and California.

As drought persists, the chance of large, disastrous fires increases. The seasonal outlook of warmer and drier-than-normal conditions for summer and fire season outlooks by federal agencies suggest another tough, long fire year is ahead.

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  1. Tom Stone

    The seasonal creeks in Sonoma County stayed dry this season and I’m already getting critters coming in the house looking for moisture.
    A full grown wolf spider at eye level in the shower will wake you up quicker than coffee…

  2. farmboy

    With the drought beginning this winter and really an extension of dry pattern from last year, vegetation is stunted so fuel load for fire weather is lower than typical. An extended period of above normal temps anytime this summer will be tinderbox conditions and it’s been an extra ordinary windy spring. Low humidity, high temps, wind will be very dangerous conditions and will at some time this summer transpire.

  3. The Rev Kev

    I hate to say it but going by all these reports of dry weather and low water levels featured over the past few weeks, that it might be an idea to have a bug-out bag prepared if you live in an area that you think might come under threat of wild fires. And all your papers in a box or brief case as well so that you can just grab it and go. Whether it is in the US, Oz, France or wherever, the pattern that I have seen over the years is that people do not get much warning if they have to evacuate from a fire but it is go-go-go with often only a few minutes warning. Yeah, it sucks but there it is.

    1. Wukchumni

      Good suggestion Rev…

      We were under mandatory evacuation during the fire last year, and when you’ve got 5 cat carriers to contend with (that is after rounding up the usual suspects) and anguished cries emanating from within, it makes it pretty easy to take stuff that matters with you and not much else, photos, art, spatula, important papers, passport, etc.

      1. kareninca

        I have in my household an elderly dog who is on special food and a 96 year old human who has had three compression fractures in the past couple of months; I don’t know how I could move them. My part of the SF Peninsula has never been hit, according to friends who grew up here. But this year it could happen. It is as dry as July already. I did scavenge two really long hoses on the last large item discard night.

    2. Dermot M O Connor

      This is exactly what I did last year and ended up needing it. Bought two fireproof bags for passport, greencard docs etc – only 2 months later ended up being alerted by City of Portland to be aware of Eagle Creek fire conditions inside the city itself with very high winds. They cut off power for several hours to reduce spark risk. We had a bug out bag by the door as well as carry cases for cats as we have no car running to nearest ‘safe’ area would not have been fun.

      Mother Jones recently did a smug centrist hatched job on Chris Martenson’s ‘Peak Prosperity’ YT channel – so much of what CM has warned about over the years has / is coming to pass (financial collapse, etc) – to still engage in prep-bashing at this late state of play shows not that the doomers / preppers are demented and uncoupled from reality — it’s the business as usual types at MJ and other MS outlets that are.

      Anyway – don’t be fooled by ‘normalcy bias’ and def. prepare – as long as you don’t go full guns n beans.

      Also just to add – the fires last year – holy hell. After almost 30 years in the US I’m moving home to Ireland no later than 2023 / early 24 – do NOT want to be around this country any longer than necessary.

  4. Wukchumni

    Had a 12 inch wide branch from a very much alive oak tree fall off a month ago, which shows how stressed everything is that makes a living working the underground economy in Cali.

    I’m in the midst of the drudgery of weed whacking, which if nothing else, you get instant satisfaction turning 3 feet of tanned flowers & grasses that died back with their roots on, into a butch haircut.

    I keep whittling away at combustibles on the ground here during the winter months, and maybe got in 25 burn piles (typically 4x4x4 feet) when it was all said and done. A goodly amount of this was a number of trees that had fallen, one a 200 year old buckeye had died about 5 years ago, and it finally keeled over.

    We were doing just fine last year until the dry lightning storms in mid August during 110 temps, and then all hell broke loose.

    The same thing happened about a decade ago, centered in rural hamlets in northern California, dry lightning setting off fires everywhere, but it didn’t affect the big cities so hardly anybody noticed. It seems like these happen infrequently, or they used to.

    You never know how fire seasons are going to be, 2019 was nothing special, sandwiched inbetween horrible 2018 & 2020 years.

  5. jhg

    There are also extreme drought conditions now in southern Manitoba as well. It looks like the northern extent of the drought in North Dakota. Farmers around Winnipeg are talking about complete crop failures if there is no rain soon.

  6. Fiery Hunt

    Just got back from a camping trip up to Lake Davis in the Sierras (near Truckee, CA).

    Davis is a big lake but it’s at 62% of normal and dropping fast.
    Very, very little snow at the peaks.

    Gonna be a hard fire year.

  7. John Wright

    My city in Sonoma country (north of the Golden Gate Bridge) has asked residents to voluntarily cut water usage by 20%.

    Voluntary measures might not be enough.

    People are nervous about the fire season as it has burned parts of Sonoma County in both 2017 and 2020.

    I know many people, including me, who lost their homes in 2017 or 2020.

    But local real estate prices are still “hot”…..

  8. Mantid

    Hey There Rev, We’re in severe drought and there’s a pretty good awareness regarding “go bags”. Our county and local utilities all have info on their websites about how to prepare and there are articles in papers (the local ones, not the ones {most of them} bought by USA Today), social media, text alerts, etc. It’s still new in some people’s mind and imagination. Example: a fancy new text alert system was updated in Paradise just a bit before their fire but it had many issues and glitches, costing lives.

    Our family’s go bag consists of all the basics: important docs on a thumb drive; contact numbers, prescription info, passports …… The worst part is that in a city, or even a small town, getting out in a car is not possible – traffic just sitting there. We have a “Map your Neighborhood” group that has formed and we have a barbi about every 6 months to check in, have a pint(s), and share tricks. How will we help disabled people, kids/infants, or those without transpo? Who has skill or tools such as medical, rope, chainsaws, water filters, etc. ?

    My favorite trick is to use our bicycles and bike trailers to “escape”. One can cut through fields and yards and bypass idling trucks and SUVs (the cause of it all!!) stuck in traffic. The trailer’s ready with extended go bag including tent, dog leash, solar panel to charge things, etc. Next time I need to make a million, I’ll invent an ATV based on a bike frame for river crossing. Oh, but the river’s dry so no problem there I guess. I could-a been a contender!

    1. Nce

      Yeah, I’m with you on the bike trailer, but I wish there was some way to pull a trailer with a dual-purpose motorcycle. It’s funny, I didn’t realize until getting stuck in eclipse-related traffic for hours between Casper, WY and the CO state line how two-wheeled vehicles should be part of my emergency gear.

    2. Tom Bradford

      Whatever you have on a thumb drive would be even better in the Cloud. Even if you lose everything but the clothes on your back it’s still recoverable as long as you can remember your password.

      I’ve actually duplicated all my essential stuff and quite a lot of useful-but-non-essential stuff across three cloud services so it’s stored on servers in Europe, the US and New Zealand. Passports are a problem as you need the physical ones but I’ve included scans of ours which would hopefully facilitate their replacement.

      I hope it will turn out to have been a complete waste of time.

    3. The Rev Kev

      Thought to drop mention of a page from Oz about bushfire preparation to show how we have it done here. Maybe there might be something useful in there for your part of the world-

      If people are going to bug-out, it might be an idea to have a practice run. I once read about Muslims that would go from their villages on to Mecca for their pilgrimage which could take months. The first night, they would only camp a few miles away. That way, if anybody realized that they had forgotten something important or realize that they were taking stuff that was burdensome, they could just run back to their village to fix it. Neat story that with an important lesson.

  9. Bobby Gladd

    I am glad we moved out of the Bay Area to Baltimore in 2019. I had written about the persistent western drought, and it looks like it’s coming back again with a vengeance.

  10. Duck1

    In the PDX area and the rain basically stopped towards the end of March. Very dry on the surface now, though we had been getting average rain until that point. Usually pretty dry around here June, July, August–this year looks like add April and May. Not as bad as in California to be sure, but the rain belt seemed to move out of our area a couple of months early.

    1. Return of the Bride of Joe Biden

      I’m about 180 miles upstream from you on right bank of the Columbia River and we’ve had just two tenths of an inch of rain since February. The soil is the driest I’ve ever seen it this time of year — since the early 70s. Conversely, the snow pack in the Washington Cascades, including the upper Yakima River watershed which provides our irrigation water, is very good.

  11. PHLDenizen

    If you’ve still chosen to live out in the western US after reading “Cadillac Desert”, you’re out of your mind — in the opinion of this East Coaster. Salinity problems in the farming regions making it increasingly difficult to grow crops, water tables collapsing so dramatically the ground sinks, the inability to price water at market rates instead of the massively taxpayer subsidized rates via the Bureau of Reclamation, attempting to replicate the native greenery of the East Coast in the US desert. Wells that go dry without tens of hundreds of thousands spent to make them deeper. And, of course, pumping all that water up is energy-intensive, which is more demand on power generation, which then worsens climate change. Desalination plants are hugely expensive, which is why everyone resorts to aquifers — and another huge power suck, again worsening climate change.

    The West is a desert through and through. If people loved it that much, they wouldn’t spend all their time indoors where it’s air conditioned. It’s a mirage, built on transporting water from places it is to places it shouldn’t be. Glen Canyon Dam, Hoover Dam, the CAP, the California Aqueduct, reservoirs and other impoundments, turning the Colorado River into Lake Placid, pissing matches over water entitlements. And if anyone were to suggest to those NM, TX, CO, UT, NV, AZ senators and reps that the free market be imposed on their water supplies, there would be mutiny and civil war. Farmers and cattle ranchers out there are crybabies and hypocrites. All that swagger about how they don’t “need no big guv’mint” and the moment they’re subjected to facing intractable challenges alone, they have their hands out, begging with some self-serving justification.

    1. neo-realist

      The northwest doesn’t appear to have the problems of drought that So Cal and the southwestern states have. We also are a target for relocation for these potential “climate refugees” from these states due to its much more moderate climate. The Seattle area, ostensibly a potential target due to its economy, doesn’t have a lot of land mass (shaped like an hourglass), and possibly not enough housing to accommodate those newcomers short of a massive change in neighborhood zoning. I’m not sure if Portland has the economy or the infrastructure to support such a massive influx of people either.

    2. Ping

      Arizona has to be a prime example of “freedumb” especially when it comes to water. Around Mojave, residents rejected sensible groundwater regulation so Saudi’s bought massive acreage for growing water intensive alfalfa crop to ship back to Saudi Arabia for livestock where there is not enough water to grow it there and resulting in enormous groundwater depletion.

      Apparently Bill Gates (Mr. Monopoly) has bought enormous acreage outside of Phoenix and elsewhere in AZ that comes with water rights.

      Here in Tucson, authorities are giddy about growth tearing up the desert for new housing developments and even had a program offering $700. to move here (!) trying to capture the market of relocating zoom employees. With excellent logistics (60 miles to Mexico on I-19 and then east-west US at I-10 junction) Amazon has major warehouses existing and planned and our politicians gave away the store to them with incentives as they did with a 50million dollar incentive package for Caterpillar (basically built them their headquarters). Why did a logistically important Tucson need to give Amazon anything for their $15. per hour jobs?

      Hello…..where is all the water coming from??

      Possibly the most insane is the proposed ROSEMONT MINE being fought in court to be the second largest copper mine in US by Canada’s Hudbay for export to China and planning to pump GROUNDWATER while destroying an important watershed and environment amidst neighboring communities just 50 miles from Tucson.

      Oath Keeper Paul Gosar, Az representative instrumental in the capitol Jan 6 assault, regards public lands as “socialism” and along with the powerful utterly corrupt AZ based Safari Club lobbies to corporatize public lands, remove species and environmental protections that stands in the way.

      It’s very sad to witness this insanity and laying-waste-asset-stripping of the lands of my heritage especially when it’s obvious we are heading into a crisis very soon. There was no monsoon last year for example. But it’s the same mentality of Goldman Sachs etc that created the global mortgage bonds frauds—IBG–YBG or I’ll be Gone and You’ll Be Gone when the sh** hits the fan.

      Tony Davis with the Arizona Daily Star is an excellent journalist with many informative articles on southern AZ water issues for further information.

  12. Dan

    I’m about to spend a painful amount of money on brush clearing in our backyard, in a hilly neighborhood of the SF Bay Area. I honestly can’t think of too many better ways to spend it, given that we’re getting red flag warnings in the first half of May already. If you live in the western US, order air purifiers, indoor air quality sensors, and N95s now because they will be unfindable after July.

    1. The Rev Kev

      May 16, 2021 at 1:13 pm’

      The subject of goats has come up here as a thorough method of clearing brush and it works. There are companies who will bring the ravenous little beasties to do a demolition job on all that brush. Perhaps that might be an option for you to investigate.

      1. tthoughtfulperson

        Here in central VA there’s a small company called goat busters, that does just that.

  13. JCC

    We don’t get much rain here at the north end of the Mojave Desert (Indian Wells/Searles Valleys), normally about 3 or 4 days total during the rainy season/winter based on my 10 years or so living here. But this year was exceptionally light. My area got one good soaking that lasted for about 3 hours. That was it.

    Other than the town itself, there isn’t a lot to burn here, we are surrounded by dirt and tumble weeds (russian thistle) for miles, so “relatively” safe compared to the Central Valley and the higher Sierras. Although based on last year’s long fire season, smoke will be a real problem. And water rationing is definitely on the horizon locally.

    1. Sue inSoCal

      JCC, much the same in low California desert. There is little to burn, and we withstand high heat. We had a few good rainy seasons, one that flooded us from the end of the Pacific hurricane (Iirc was Dolores ? in 2015. Intense indeed.) Since then? Very little rain.
      The continued development and eventual lack of water I imagine will be the end, though the county put the kaibosh on at least one crazy “mixed use” idea which clearly had no water access.

  14. MichaelSF

    My mother lives in a small town about 30 miles south of Albuquerque, NM. I asked about the irrigation situation the last time I talked to her and she said there were going to be two rounds, with the second in June. The local growers have been advised to not bother planting this year.

  15. jdm

    I live close enough to the Colorado River to pour it on my ground, irrigating almost an acre, minus the spots without plants. Our city is bursting with a building spree, with little visible means of support, during a lumber shortage. Our Colorado River water rights are number two in the state of Colorado, so we will have water until we don’t. The river is looking like low water in August as I walk along river trails for my daily walk. I have lived here over forty years, long enough to know about our climate and now watch it change from what it once was like. I think about the ancient people leaving due to drought, to go live next to the rivers that continued to flow. There are so many of us that can’t imagine what living along this drainage will be like if this pattern becomes a long term pattern. One day this spring, the river had 3000 or above cubic feet per second, as I looked at the stream flow chart. I can remember the 1983-84 years of 50,000 plus cfs. Then some book talked about Grand Canyon perhaps was dry at times during those parched years long ago. Even twenty million climate refugees from the Colorado River drainage would be difficult to accommodate elsewhere, but I am watching 120 apartment units arise next to the railroad tracks and walmart. At least they won’t be watering a lawn. I live with 20 trees around my house, a big old cottonwood from the 1890’s,next to my farthest corner where the irrigation ditch went and other bushes and garden places. I will move when I can’t live here anymore.

  16. Mary M McCurnin

    Four years ago my daughter and grandkids escaped a fire in Sonoma during the 2017 wildfire season. They came to our house in Rancho Cordova. RC is safer than Sonoma because it is easier to fight the fires due to the fact that it is flat.

    Two years ago, a controlled burn in our greenbelt got out of control and raged toward our neighborhood. Fortunately, it was put out before damage was done. I have experienced forest fires on the greenbelt many times.

    We have already had at least ten days in May that were fire watches. I have been in the Sacramento valley for 20 years and have never witnessed this in May.

    We want to leave. We just have to figure out where to go.

  17. George

    I occasionally look at the US Wildfire Map,, and noticed the “fire season” while subsided somewhat never actually ended. Recently the Dry Fire in the Piute Mountain area, of the Sequoia National Forest, the Big Rocks Fire in the North Pahroc Range, about 20 miles northeast of Hiko, Nevada, and five unknown acreage fires in Arizona indicate a fire season that never ended its grip.
    So I see it as nonstop burning on a reduced acreage amount annually.

    PHLDenizen. While your observations are duly noted they appear diluted after several pointed remarks concerning the locals. An argument could be made that residing in the Eastern part of the country is outside of one’s mind as well. Never the less, we all belong to one country and well over half of it is burning up. Why suppression will never be a national agenda is plainly exhibited by your credence.

    The fact is, much of the West has been built on ancient fire plains. Accordingly, wildfires of long ago were more frequent, severe and relentless than modern occurrences. That was until recently since it appears now we are headed back to that same ancient pattern.

    We know the feds will soon declare a water shortage in the Southwest. This means the much needed water from the Colorado River will be reduced because of the continuance of drought. The water just isn’t there today. Water reclamation along with conservation efforts will somewhat blunt this impact for now. Cities like Las Vegas already use a wash to purify otherwise lost water and are moving towards the elimination of all decorative grass by 2026.

    1. Tim W

      One of the most sobering things I have ever read – and I forget exactly where but it stuck- is the suggestion that the entire SW has been in an abnormally “Wet” cycle for the last couple hundred years, during which time, the entire modern human infrastructure of states like CA AZ NM etc has been built. If we are reverting to historical norms and epic decades long droughts then it all becomes uninhabitable. How many millions looking for new homes? It’ll make the dustbowl look like a minor weather event.

    1. IdahoSpud

      If you live in the woods in the western US, it’s prudent to clear trees and undergrowth in a 100 ft radius from your home. Also prudent is to thin and limb the trees about 10 ft high and remove undergrowth, so that a dry grass fire doesn’t become a crown fire.

      Unfortunately this wildfire mitigation has the effect of making your property look like a groomed KOA campground rather than a beautiful and natural forest.

      1. John Wright

        My experience indicates that the 100ft radius is good, but the propagation method is via large hot embers that can fly into dry attics and roof vents over longer distances than 100ft..

        I witnessed this from the back yard of my eventually burned down house in Santa Rosa, CA in October 2017.

        On October 9, 2017 there was almost a river of large flying embers 50 feet in the air that the hot dry wind carried.

        The embers create more embers as fires get started to spawn more embers.

        I found that the Australian building codes push for small openings around doors, windows, screens and vents. Something line 2mm to 3mm (0.080″ to 0.120″) to prevent embers from entering the house.

        It was suggested that some of the local Sonoma County houses, with cement tile roofs, burned down because embers blew underneath the tiles to start the roof burning,

        1. The Rev Kev

          An old ploy here is to clean out your gutters, plug up the down-pipe, and then to fill your gutters up with water. Any embers that fall into them get put straight out before they can do any more damage.

        2. IdahoSpud

          Point taken. The above suggestions were to help provide a buffer against radiant heat setting your home ablaze. Additionally it gives firefighters a reason to put some effort ito saving your house specificall because you have taken the time to make it possible to defend.

          Most homes hereabouts have either metal or composite roofing, which is less amenable to ignition than a Spanish tile arrangement. Siding tends to be fire resistant vinyl or cement Hardy Plank. On the other hand, everyone has wooden decks, which are not so great against embers.

          There is a lot to be said for fiberglass decking, and not just due to reduced maintenance!

          1. John Wright

            In the Santa Rosa, California Tubbs wildfire of October 8-9 2017, fire fighting crews assembled at a KMart parking lot that was separated from the approaching fire by the 6 lane highway, US 101.

            The crews hoped that a 6 lane highway would be enough to serve as a fire break.

            It didn’t.

            The fire jumped the freeway (via flying embers) and the KMart burned down, apparently as embers started roof debris burning.

            Then most of the suburban neighborhood known as Coffey Park burned down.

            Some homes survived, apparently because the embers blew over them.

            Flying embers can travel a long distance under the right conditions,

    2. JP

      Wildfires are a huge bunedoogle in CA. There is tons of money to fight fires and not an ounce to prevent them. I live in a rural area. Lots of people here are happy for fire season because that’s when they make all their money. Spending more money for hazard fuel reduction would get a lot more people employed. Working with professionals that know how to prevent wildfires would be good. Nobody wants to spend money to clean up their neighbors back yard but if the neighhbors house is on fire they will spend any amount to prevent the fire from spreading to their house.

      1. Wukchumni

        Amazingly, the BLM which has a budget of about a buck, buck-fifty, did prescribed burn piles on nearly 300 acres earlier this year in February. So there’s a scintilla of prevention going on, but barely.

        BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The Bakersfield Field Office plans to conduct prescribed fire operations at Case Mountain Extensive Recreation Management Area, southeast of the town of Three Rivers in Tulare County. Pile burn operations are scheduled to start the week of Jan. 19 and may continue periodically through the spring.

        The prescribed fire is designed to improve landscape health and to remove hazardous fuels that could feed wildland fire at the recreation area. Crews plan to cover 271 acres by the end of spring. Burning will take place only when weather and fuel moisture allow for safe and successful burning.

        Case Mountain encompasses approximately 18,500 acres of BLM-managed public lands and supports many sensitive plants and animals, important riverbank ecosystems, areas of cultural significance, and a 400-acre Giant Sequoia Complex with six distinct giant sequoia groves.

  18. Glen

    You can use Google Earth to view the fire data available from the US Forest Service, this include the fire detecting satellites, and weather data:

    Fire Data in Google Earth

    I’d be open to someone suggesting an open source GIS program that can do the same so I can dump Google Earth.

  19. Anthony Stegman

    In California the big growers are not at all incentivized to conserve water. As part of his early Christmas dole of surplus revenue Governor Newsom is using $200 million of taxpayer money to repair damage caused by subsidence. The growers over drew ground water causing the ground to sink. But rather than footing the bill for the damage they caused the big growers are getting yet another gift from the taxpayers. Why an industry that represents roughly 4% of the state’s economy has so much clout really escapes me.

    1. Wukchumni

      Actually, Newsom was against it…

      In August, a bill by state Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) to provide $400 million for the canal’s repairs was amended and passed by the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

      The $206 million in Covid funds to fix the Friant-Kern Canal come from the Feds via Trump stooges Kevin y Devin, but why fix it now, as there is going to be a lot more subsidence with almost all of the water for those 666 million trees coming from wells, hello overdraft!

      Efforts to repair a long stretch of the Friant-Kern Canal got a major boost in the $900 billion COVID-19 relief package passed Monday night.

      The congressional package includes $206 million for canal repairs that are expected to begin in early 2021.

      The bill is on President Donald Trump’s desk, and he is expected to sign it this week.

      “Speaking on behalf of our members and the more than 15,000 farms and dozens of communities who rely on the Friant-Kern Canal, I want to extend deep gratitude and appreciation to our representatives in Congress, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Devin Nunes, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Jim Costa and Rep. TJ Cox for their work to advocate for and advance the needs of the Friant Division,” said Friant Water Authority Chairman Chris Tantau. “This funding will keep FWA on schedule to award a construction contract and begin implementing the project early next year.”

  20. Wukchumni

    Just got my insurance renewal for our cabin in Sequoia NP, it’s $100 more than last year, but the real concern was that we’d get dropped by the insurance company-which dropped another cabin owner last year, but it’s all good news today!

  21. DMS

    Hard to take drought talk seriously when my water bill is $15/mo. I live in Orange County, CA.

    If whoever-is-in-control was serious about this, it’d be $100/mo. Wake me up when it’s there, folks.

  22. lordkoos

    Here in central WA it is quite dry but the snow pack is 25% over the average, so agricultural irrigation and crops are not affected. Wildfires are almost certain to happen this summer — in the last ten years, there has only been one summer that was smoke-free, the air quality has been pretty terrible most summers. We are in town surrounded by miles of agricultural land so our place is not at risk, but in the NW part of the county there are thousands of people who have places in the woods (including my brother).

  23. Paul Jonker-Hoffrén

    Regarding droughts and rainfall, the EU has a great resource too, the European Drought Observatory. Here you can see an animation of the developments of the last year. As is evident, especially France seems to be very prone to draughts, but also Belgium, Netherlands and parts of Germany. Surprisingly, also a significant part of Sweden, currently! I don’t know in more detail but it could be a lack of snow in winter. Normally, at least here in Finland, the melting snow provides a lot of the water for the new growth season. April and May are typically dusty here

    1. PlutoniumKun

      We had a serious March/April drought in Ireland – the result (because of dry winter vegetation) was a few very damaging fires in the mountains – Killarney National Park (heath, bog and oak forest) was seriously damaged. The last four of five Aprils were the driest on record so it seems to be a new climate pattern – possibly high pressure zones sitting over Europe stopping the usual waves of Atlantic rain coming in. Thankfully, May has, as usual, had plenty of rain, so things are as green as always now.

      1. vlade

        Not stopping, just sending over :).

        Here in the Central Europe, we had pretty much drought up to the last year, probably worst in a century.

        But last year was very wet, I think it was wettest in decades, possibly a century or so. This year so far seems to be very wet too. This is mostly wet Atlantic air coming from the west.

  24. Wukchumni

    Once the aquifers in the Central Valley have been drained out in a race to the bottom in order to supply almond cookies in the middle kingdom, the former fruited plain will be one of the most desolate stretches of Cali, emptied underfoot forever as fast as possible, although there will still be old school dry wheat farming as practiced here in the late 19th-early 20th century, things will have come full circle.

    Fruit & nut trees take a long time to produce commercial quantities, and unlike lettuce, tomatoes or rutabegas which you can decide to grow or not based on water availability, no farmer with a big orchard wants to let everything die, as it puts you 5-12 years behind the earning curve where all you do is spend money putting in a new orchard.

    There’s a 9 year old pistachio orchard of around 2,000 trees on Hwy 198 i’ve been following since it was planted, and they are filling out nicely and may have a small crop for the 1st time, but still years away from every tree paying off their decade+ tuition.

    If we are in for a long one, such as the Millennium drought in Aussie, as long as there is water in the ground, tree farmers will want to save their orchards, it’ll be quite the fight.

    What is fascinating to me now, is that everything not dependent upon the hand of man to water it, is so dried & stressed out-everybody sees it, while on the other hand, every orchard looks great, kinda weird-the difference.

    Sort of like having an all you can eat buffet right next to a fenced in concentration camp

  25. Marc Andelman

    A water quantity problem is also a water quality problem. Millions of Californians, especially the poor, are drinking water that makes them sick. This has been and will increasingly need to be trucked in. It would be possible, cheaper, and more practical to develop an effective, fail safe, and inexpensive water purifier that works at the point of use. I do not see any research by corporations or government in that direction. What few grant opportunities that do exist in water technology come with matching fund requirements, except for universities. This means that small businesses, where the expertise in this field often lies, would have to opt in for a profit losing contract for the privilege of working with the DOE or Bureau of Reclamation, etc. R&D boards are also dominated by large civil engineering firms that focus on centralized water grid technologies, and on fixing the already validated and installed equipment using some of the few existing technologies they already use. However, technologies like reverse osmosis have serious deficiencies with many inland water problems. It will be never when a centralized water grid delivers increasingly scarce water to ever small town. The only practical solution would be a point of use or distributed water purification means. Likewise, NGO’s that deal in water do not seem to employ people with the skills in science or physics needed to find and fund these solutions. They certainly do exist, if anyone wants to look.

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