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A historic 'megadrought' and the climate connection: Examining the Western US drought crisis

Posted at 2:14 PM, Jul 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-16 17:14:37-04

The western United States is drying up. Wildfires are scorching the region at unprecedented rates, drought conditions are at their worst in decades, and millions of Americans are relying on a water system whose supply can’t keep up with the demand.

In this special presentation, the Scripps western stations dig into the drought and climate change crises across the American West and its far-reaching impact – from our water infrastructure, to our forests and farmlands.

According to data released this week by the U.S. Drought Monitor, less than 1% of the land in the western states was drought-free, and more than 60% was experiencing extreme or exceptional drought conditions – the worst since it started keeping records in 2000.

More than 60 million people west of the Rocky Mountains are experiencing drought conditions, which is putting a strain on our water supply and increasing wildfire activity across the region.

As of this week, there were more than 130 wildfires burning across the West, including more than 50 uncontained large fires. More than 1.1 million acres have already burned in the western half of the United States this year.

And after record wildfires across the West last year, officials predict those fires will increasingly burn year-round as a decades-long megadrought gets worse.

With several western rivers already dry or running warm and low, it’s likely the federal government will for the first time declare a water shortage for the Colorado River system that supplies water to the West, and KUNC reported Thursday that reservoirs along the river would start emergency releases to shore up the historically low levels of Lake Powell.

For a full look at the state of the drought and wildfires across the West, and how the conditions are being exacerbated by climate change, watch the full special in the player embedded below. You can also watch on your local Scripps news apps on Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, or Android TV apps.

Click here for more drought coverage from Scripps.

A historic 'megadrought' and the climate connection: Examining the Western US drought crisis