Dry stretches without rain are a welcome sign for those looking to enjoy some fun in the sun. However, when those conditions persist for too long, serious problems can arise. Just last year, scientists told the Los Angeles Times that the American Southwest was in the middle of its worst drought in 1,200 years. And they’re not alone, as countries across the world have been experiencing extreme drought conditions, causing heatwaves, water shortages, and wildfires, among a long list of problems.
Droughts can lead to complex societal challenges, ones beyond just not being able to turn on the sprinkler in your backyard. To understand the issue, let’s take a deeper look at the cause of droughts, the problems they create, and what you can do when a drought hits your community.
What is a Drought?
Let’s start with the basics – what’s considered a drought? The National Drought Migration Center explains a drought refers to “a deficiency of precipitation over an extended period of time (usually a season or more), resulting in a water shortage.”
The exact definition of a drought can differ based on region. In fact, it can vary so much that what’s considered a drought in one part of the country may not be a cause for concern in other parts.
What’s Causing Droughts?
While droughts occur naturally and can be hard to predict, many scientists agree that there is one underlying contributing factor to a recent increase in droughts: climate change. Using evidence from satellites, a study discussed by PBS shows droughts are increasing due to burning fossil fuels and other human activity that releases greenhouse gases.
Climate change is not just contributing to droughts for already dry areas, but it’s also causing inverse problems for storm-prone areas leading to heavier rainfall and flooding.
Droughts Occurring Faster Than Ever
Additionally, a study in the journal Science found that droughts are being triggered faster than ever. These “flash droughts” happen when the air gets so hot and dry for an extended period of time that it sucks water right out of plants and soil, creating a massive crop killing footprint. Scientists say that these “flash droughts” are happening in rapidly warming climates, once again pointing to climate change as a big contributing factor.
Creating New Problems
Droughts can leave a lasting impact on the regions they occur in, creating new problems impacting more people. Spain’s weather agency recently announced the country is entering a period of long-term drought after experiencing low amounts of rainfall and high temperatures for the last three years. This has led to an increase in heatwaves and wildfires in not just Spain, but the Mediterranean as a whole.
A drought can also have a big economic impact. Just last year, a drought in California caused the state’s hydropower production to be cut in half from the previous year. It was caused by low levels in water sources like lakes and rivers due to less rainfall. This doesn’t impact just California, as states like Colorado rely on buying hydropower for their residents. This meant that Colorado was forced to look elsewhere, instead choosing to buy more natural gas. According to a Colorado gas brokerage firm, that caused a spike in bills for Colorado residents.
How to Stay Drought Ready
Whether you’re worried about the possibility of a drought in your area, or just want to conserve more water in your everyday life, there are a number of things you can do to prepare.
Ready.gov recommends a host of tips including:
- Checking all pipes and faucets in your house to make sure there isn’t a water leak. Notion has sensors that you can easily install in your home to alert you when a leak is happening. Detecting leaks early is critical to saving time and money considering one drop per second from a leaky faucet could cause up to 2,700 wasted gallons of water a year.
- You can also buy water efficient appliances and accessories for your home, like a low volume toilet, a low flow shower head, or an energy efficient washing machine that uses less electricity and water.
- Instead of pouring your leftover bottle of water down the drain, use it to water your plants both indoors and outdoors.
Tips To Conserve Water During a Drought
What should you do if your area experiences a drought? You can start by conserving water whenever possible.
Small things like limiting the amount of time you spend in the shower or turning the water off while you brush your teeth make a difference. The EPA says the average American uses roughly 82 gallons of water a day at home, so even saving a few minutes of running the water here and there can add up over time.
In many areas, water use may even be restricted by local authorities, banning activities like watering your lawn. One of the best ways you can help in this scenario is by recycling rainwater. Several tools exist to help collect rainwater to be used later for watering plants or washing your car. Some locals have rainwater collection restrictions though, so make sure to check your local regulations first.
While we can’t control the weather, we can control how we react to weather events. With slight tweaks and improvements to how we consume and use water in our everyday life, we’ll be better prepared for what’s ahead if a drought impacts our community.