Drought | KUNR

Drought

Bulldozer helps with firing operation
Inciweb

Scientists say the size and intensity of wildfires that we’re seeing today is alarming because it’s what they were predicting would happen 30 years down the road – not right now. 

An ominous smoke cloud fills the sky in Wyoming
Greg Sanders / InciWeb

Drought, wildfire and record-breaking heat are all part of the current climate landscape in the Mountain West. 

It’s a triple whammy that’s expected to continue into the coming months. 

A U.S. map with drought monitor readings from October 6, 2020. The map displays extreme and exceptional drought throughout the west, with the most notable readings in Utah, Nevada and New Mexico.
Brian Fuchs / National Drought Mitigation Center

A few weeks ago, rancher Noah Brooks said what was troubling him most was the weather.

“The fact that it didn’t rain, June, July, August but maybe three times, that this community runs around cattle and feed and if we don’t get some rain, we’re in big big trouble, and I think that we’re drying out,” he said.

Brooks lives in Clark, Colorado. But the conditions he describes are persistent throughout the region.

A map of the Western U.S., showing varying levels of drought.
United States Drought Monitor

As the country turned its attention toward the pandemic, something else was creeping into the Mountain West: drought conditions.

An image of a dusty parcel of land showing crops completely dried out from drought.
NOAA

Researchers in our region are arguing for new models to better plan for a recent climate phenomenon: flash droughts. According to a new paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change, these events present new challenges for climate predictors.

Map shows the odds of reaching 100% of normal precipitation by the end of the water year based on how much precipitation has been observed so far this water year and how much has historically been observed during the remaining months in the water year.
Center For Western Weather and Water Extremes / Scripps Institution of Oceanography

It’s been one of the driest starts to the water year across parts of the Mountain West, but that doesn’t mean there’s cause for alarm just yet.

Drones are increasingly being used to study the effects of wildfires. This drone is collecting data from a large prescribed burn earlier this year at the Fishlake National Forest in Utah.
Desert Research Institute

From more intense wildfires to prolonged droughts, climate change is impacting the ecology of the American West. That’s got researchers in our region looking at a new way to fight some of these impacts: drones.

Ken Lund / Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Dozens of Nevadans recently protested at the state legislature about what they see as potential governmental overreach on the water rights of domestic wells. They rely on those wells as their main source of water. Our contributor Bob Conrad of ThisisReno.com has the story.

Patrick Nouhailler / Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Research by the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Colorado, Boulder shows that rising temperatures are causing snow to melt earlier in the year, and that's not good news.

The Truckee Meadows depends on runoff from snowmelt to fill its reservoirs and streams for drinking, agriculture and recreation.

Rising temperatures are causing snow to melt earlier in the year, when days are shorter and there’s less sunlight to melt the snow. This slows down the process, which means evaporation increases and less water makes it to regional reservoirs.

Just Add Water: Reno River Festival Is Back

May 6, 2016
Antoine Debroye, Flickr (CC by SA-2.0)

The 13th annual Reno River Festival is welcoming the return of its most critical element: water.

The gushing water of the Truckee River is a sound for sore ears as kayakers return for the annual River Festival in the heart of downtown Reno.

Jess Horning is with Liquid Blue Events, one of the organizers of the festival. He says last year the kayakers couldn't compete...

TMWA Eases Off Water Conservation Cuts This Summer

Apr 21, 2016
Eric Norris / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Truckee Meadows Water Authority will not ask its customers in the region to cut back on water this summer.

Last year, TMWA customers were asked to cut back 10 percent on their water use amid concerns over the lingering drought. Overall, residents responded well, cutting back by double that amount.

This year, however, strengthened by a wet winter and extra reserves, TMWA's board is easing off.

Andy Gebhardt is with TMWA.

Researchers Testing Cloud Seeding With Drones

Mar 16, 2016
Julia Ritchey

A month after researchers conducted a cloud-seeding test using unmanned aircraft, a Reno-based drone company is building the next generation. As Reno Public Radio's Julia Ritchey reports, the project hopes to bring cloud seeding into the 21st century.

Inside the shop at Drone America, design engineer Kyle Pruett is showing off their plans for a new unmanned, fixed-wing aircraft called the Savant.

Kevin Clifford / Drone America

The Desert Research Institute has successfully tested an unmanned drone flight that could help lessen the impact of drought. Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick breaks down what that means.

 

Cloud seeding is a practice in which tiny amounts of ice crystals and chemicals are released into the atmosphere to promote more moisture and precipitation during storms. 

Adam Watts is with the DRI and led the project team, which equipped an unmanned aircraft with a cloud seeding payload. He says drones can be an effective supplement to traditional ground and aerial efforts.

Arlington County / Flickr, CC Attribution 2.0 Generic

A strict interpretation of Nevada law reveals that collecting water with rain catchment systems, or rain barrels, is illegal. With ongoing drought conditions, Nevada’s state engineer Jason King says that there should be some exemptions. Bob Conrad of our media partner ThisisReno has the story.

The Governor’s drought forum was tasked with addressing the state’s water resource challenges and released its recommendations last month.

Amy Westervelt

The Natural Resources Conservation Service collects a lot of data, including snowpack measurements from more than 80 snow telemetry stations, also called SNOTEL sites, across the Sierras and Northern Nevada.

Now that we’re halfway through this winter, NRCS Hydrologist Jeff Anderson is digging into what those numbers mean, and he visited with News Director Michelle Billman to share some of his early findings.

TMWA Buys Water Rights For Donner Lake

Jan 6, 2016
Amy Westervelt

Truckee Meadows Water Authority now has complete ownership of Donner Lake's storage rights. As Reno Public Radio's Julia Ritchey reports, the lake is another important drought reserve for the region.

Since the 1940s, TMWA and its predecessor, Sierra Pacific Power, has owned one half of Donner Lake's water rights in California. The other half belonged to the Truckee Carson Irrigation District, made up mostly of Fernley and Fallon-area farmers.

But last month the irrigation district agreed to sell its stake in Donner to TMWA to the tune of $17 million.

Julia Ritchey

The Truckee River has been called one of the most litigated waterways in the West. But a landmark agreement reached by federal, state, tribal and local officials last year has cleared the way to better management of the region's most valuable resource. Reno Public Radio's Julia Ritchey reports.

The Truckee River Operating Agreement has been more than 27 years in the making and finally puts an end to decades of court proceedings and high-level negotiations over the waterway's future.

Natural Resources Conservation Service

Snowpack measurements across the Eastern Sierra and Northern Nevada are coming in higher than normal. For the latest snowpack update, let's check in with Reno Public Radio's Michelle Billman.

As a hydrologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Jeff Anderson oversees about 100 snow telemetry sites, also called SNOTEL stations. He visited one on Mt. Rose Monday where he measured 54 inches of snow, containing almost 16 inches of water content.

Amy Westervelt

The Tahoe Basin snowpack is better right now than at any point last winter. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss has the details.

Jeff Anderson is a water supply specialist with the Nevada Snow Survey Program which regularly measures the snowpack. He says that in the past two winters, it's taken until February to reach as much snow as they're measuring now.

But that doesn't actually mean a whole lot just yet.

Courtesy Academy for the Environment at UNR

Maureen McCarthy is executive director of the Academy for the Environment at University of Nevada, Reno. Two of the Academy's most recent projects involve working closely with farmers, water districts, and tribal communities to get a sense of how variations in climate affect the water they depend upon, and what can be done to mitigate those impacts. 

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