Water Crisis in the West

May 11, 2018 • Volume 28, Issue 18
Can the region overcome worsening drought?
By Rachel Kaufman


A nearly dry irrigation canal in California's vast Central Valley (Cover: Getty Images/Corbis/In Pictures Ltd.)
A nearly dry irrigation canal in California's vast Central Valley farming region reflects the devastating impact on the state of a five-year drought that ended in 2016. About two-thirds of the West now suffers from drought conditions, and water experts say the situation will worsen because of global warming and pressure on water supplies from population growth. (Cover: Getty Images/Corbis/In Pictures Ltd.)

The Western United States' long battle for an adequate water supply is entering a challenging new phase. Scientists say climate change could reduce rainfall 25 percent in coming years, and droughts will become longer and more frequent — all as the region's population growth is setting records. Climatologists say farmers and ranchers must find new ways of operating in arid conditions, and cities must increase their conservation efforts despite citizen resistance. At the same time, experts say states must do more to work together to address the region's water limitations, and some want the federal government to assume a bigger role in mediating water disputes. Still, some scientists say the threat of a protracted water crisis is overblown, noting that droughts have been cyclical throughout history. Others say new technology, including desalination plants that make seawater drinkable, can increase the water supply. Las Vegas, the casino mecca in one of the nation's driest regions, is among the cities struggling to balance water conservation and economic growth.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Natural Resources
May 11, 2018  Water Crisis in the West
Dec. 20, 2011  The Resource Curse
Dec. 09, 2011  Water Crisis in the West
Jan. 18, 2011  Disappearing Forests
Aug. 2008  Race for the Arctic
Feb. 2008  Looming Water Crisis
Oct. 28, 1988  The Battle for Natural Resources
Mar. 21, 1951  International Control of Essential Materials
Oct. 11, 1935  Raw Materials and World Peace
Agriculture and the Environment
Climate Change
Congress Actions
Consumer Behavior
Consumer Protection and Product Liability
Earth Sciences
Land Resources and Property Rights
State, Local, and Intergovernmental Relations
Supreme Court History and Decisions
Water Resources