We Are On Borrowed Time

The Worst Drought in 1,200 Years is Happening (What Should You Do?)

This Will Impact You!

“Thousands Have Lived Without Love, Not One Without Water” – W.H.Auden.

An incredible 53% of the lower 48 states are currently experiencing some level of drought.  In the past, we might have shrugged this fact off.  We especially did so if it was raining where we lived, or we lived in an area surrounded by lakes.  A drought at this level hasn’t been seen in 1,200 years.  The total impact on our modern world isn’t truly known.  Food scarcity is just one possibility, but what happens when lights in major cities might be going out later this year?  What happens when a wildfire occurs that sweeps across the plains driven by higher temperature winds?  What happens when the drought causes severe weather patterns across the rest of the US?  There are a host of issues that will in some way impact you regardless of where you live.  Are you prepared for them?

In many western states, water rationing, fines, and even flow restriction devices are inevitable and in some places already being implemented.  Let’s look at just three results of these droughts–the impact on agriculture, weather, and infrastructure, their not so obvious implications for your future, regardless of where in the United States, and what you can do about it now.  

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Infrastructure Affected By DroughtIn your typical drought, water is allocated to farmers and manufacturing, people are asked to reduce consumption, and prices increase.  In these prolonged droughts that turn into megadroughts that we’re beginning to see, rolling blackouts are possible.  The Glen Canyon 1,320-megawatt dam is 11 meters from its minimal operable water level, referred to as minimum power pool (MPP).  That’s bad news for Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming customers.  Dams throughout the southwest region are operating at a diminished capacity of 25-50% of maximum output to retain MPP.  Hoover Dam, fed by Lake Mead, produces 4.5 billion kilowatt-hours per year.  The problem, though, is levels at Lake Mead continue to drop as it dries up. (http://mead.uslakes.info/level.asp)  Hoover Dam stops operating when Lake Mead gets to 289.56 meters. It’s currently just 31 meters from that depth.  At the current rate of decline adjusted for historical season average rates of decline, it’s possible we could see a Las Vegas desperate for power by the end of Summer.

Lake Oroville, California’s largest reservoir, is currently 55% of total capacity.  Shasta Lake is at less than half of what it should be at this point in the year.  In the Colorado Basin, Lake Powell’s water surface elevation is currently at 3,522 feet. It is quickly approaching the 3,490-foot threshold level at which Glen Canyon Dam can no longer continue to generate hydropower.  That dam alone produces electricity for 5.8 million homes and businesses in 7 states.  If it just drops 32 more feet, it will stop producing electricity, and over the last 3-years, it has fallen over a 100 feet.  We could see this mega power generator offline by the end of this year.  

Lake Mead is at a historically low 31% of capacity and has gotten so low that they recently discovered a body that had been dumped in a barrel there back in the 1980s.  New Mexico’s Elephant Butte Reservoir is a mere 13% full in the Rio Grande Basin.  When one region can’t produce the power it needs from the Colorado River or elsewhere, it has to turn to the other areas of the country.  This forces major re-routing of power and burdens and stretches the grid to capacity.  Prices go up for everyone, everywhere.  Add to this seasonally hot weather and high energy demands, and you have rolling blackouts, power rationing, more restrictions, and even higher prices.  Natural gas could help offset the hydroelectric demand, but with it more profitable to ship American natural gas to Europe and the high costs and demand for liquid natural gas, it isn’t much of a solution to the overall disequilibrium of the power structure.


Agriculture Affected By DroughtJust 3 of the states we mentioned earlier account for 25% of all the agriculture produced in the United States.  That is an incredible 92.8 Billion dollars of agricultural product per year.  Something you ate yesterday and something you will try and eat today was likely grown or raised in one of just three states, all of which are currently experiencing extreme drought conditions.  When you add all of the states we mentioned in, easily a third of the country’s food supply is produced in these areas suffering from a drought right now.

We are just at the beginning stages of the warmer season, too.  The crops currently in the ground have to endure the still to come scorching temperatures of Summer.  Last year, the Walla Walla sweet onion suffered a crop failure due to high heat, resulting in 98% crop failure in some areas.  Crop failures are more likely as the temperatures increase in the dryer months ahead.  Nothing indicates the drought will be confined only to the states we mentioned.  Many of the agricultural states in the Midwest are teetering on drought conditions, and the situation could get worse for many of them in the coming months.  If aquifers remain low and are not replenished, the conditions that gave rise to the horrific Dust Bowl of the 1930s are not out of the realm of possibility.  In fact, they are more imaginable than you might think.

Agriculture is forecasted to be down already, and surging fertilizer costs are already pushing food prices to historic highs.  Water is a commodity.  The average CA farmer pays just 70 dollars for an acre-foot of water.  That’s 325,851 gallons of water.  The average American spends $72.93 every month, calculated at a mere 100 gallons per day.  So, the price difference is noticeable.  One of the ugly sides of corporate farming operations is that they can often lobby for low-cost water.  They pay far less per gallon than Joe and Sally consumer pays.  It’s not unusual to get water rights for your corporate farm that is equal to millions and millions of gallons.  It is sometimes more profitable to turn around and sell those per gallon water rights to municipalities than to use the water in their agricultural efforts.  One notable corporate operation in 2009 made a lot of enemies out of King County, California’s smaller farm operations, when it permanently sold 14,000-acre-feet or 14.5 million gallons of state water for 73 million dollars.  That water doesn’t get replenished.  The small farmer still struggles to have enough water for his crop.  The corporation reaps an instant per gallon profit and grows nothing, often receiving a federal subsidy as well.  That’s great for shareholders but not so great for the food supply.  It’s all part of very complex and highly charged drought politics.  With fertilizer prices where they are, we can expect to see more of these backdoor water deals and less actual growing.

Another disproportionate weirdness in the agricultural industry can be seen in what we grow and to whom we sell it.  Alfalfa accounts for 18% of California’s total irrigation water but only 4% of California’s agricultural revenue receipts.  This alfalfa is used as cattle feed.  A fourth of the total harvest is exported to China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia.  That puts America in this weird situation where profits motivate us to sell to other countries what we increasingly and more desperately need here.  Still, the alfalfa farmer pays just $70 for 325,851 gallons of water.  Los Angeles spends $1,000 for the same amount of water.  To say that there is an imbalance and a reappropriation needed would be an understatement.

Putting farmers and ranchers in the awkward situation of choosing whether or not to produce food or letting their land go fallow, or thinning their herd is not good for prices or food reserves.  Expect this drought to continue and food prices to continue to rise.  Expect that there may be an outright scarcity of some commodities as farmers have to choose carefully what they grow and pray for rain, all the while struggling with states for an allocation of water at an affordable enough price to bring a crop all the way through to harvest–all the while praying for rain.


Drought Tornadoes WildfireFlooding depends significantly on the moisture content and compaction of the soil.  When rain does fall, does it have time and the appropriate space to be absorbed into the ground, trickle into the aquafers, and remain available for generations to come?  Or is the dry and compacted soil too solid to allow for absorption?  Or, is the soil already too saturated from the abundance of rain skipping the southwest United States and saturating the northeast?  The science of dramatic drought is still being studied, but we know that the drought in one area of the country can result in more extreme weather events in other parts of the country.  The drought in the southwest is due to an extreme high-pressure system and warmer temperatures.  Ironically, these warmer temperatures increase evaporation and the moisture content of the atmosphere.  When that moisture finally does come down in the form of rain, it is less likely to be a light sprinkle over several days, giving the ground a nice slow soak.  It’s more likely to be a deluge that can’t absorb into the ground and causes flooding.  It does little good to drought areas unless it can be effectively collected, channeled, and contained.

Floods and droughts are related, but you may not have known that megadroughts like we are facing, can increase the severity of storms and tornadoes in other areas of the country?  The higher moisture content and hotter than average temperatures make for sharper divisions between low and high-pressure systems and more evaporated moisture in the air.  Tornadoes develop from severe thunderstorms in warm, moist, unstable air along and ahead of cold fronts. These thunderstorms also may generate large hail and damaging winds.  While the correlation between megadrought conditions and extreme weather in other areas is still being studied, the evidence points to a higher potential for natural weather disasters in the areas that receive rainfall.

Also, the drier conditions in the West are leading to an early wildfire season, and it will become even more intense as the season goes through Summer and into Fall.  In this drought’s earlier stages, we have already witnessed whole communities reduced to ashes in mere minutes.  Most recently, exceptionally dry conditions and reported warm wind gusts of up to 110 miles per hour fanned grassfires in Colorado and wiped out over 500 suburban homes.  High winds and dry conditions are also blamed for the wildfires that ravage California yearly and have resulted in quiet, seemingly safe suburban neighborhoods reduced to ash and cinder.


What Should You Do In DroughtThe biggies of agriculture, water rationing, increased natural disasters, the threat of rolling blackouts, and price increases result from the megadrought much of the lower 48 states are suffering through.  There isn’t much you can do about that, but you can make a difference and create more stability in your own life in small ways.  The easiest way to create greater stability in your own life is to reduce consumption, thereby reducing dependence.  Wherever you live, seek ways to become more energy efficient.  If that means home battery systems, solar, or just using less energy and installing energy-efficient bulbs, do what works for you.  Also, be prepared for the power to go out.  Assess your emergency power needs and then implement a plan to get those needs met.  It isn’t a question of will the power go out; it’s a question of when, so you have the opportunity to be ready.

This megadrought problem just compounds with the high cost of fertilizer, the excessively high temperatures, and the global supply chain failing in big and small ways every day.  You have to prioritize your food preps.  At the very least, this will help to insulate you a bit from higher prices.  At the most, it will carry you through any period of food scarcity.  If ever there was a year to start your backyard or balcony garden, this was it.  Food costs are rising, and we see no bright spot on the horizon.  We haven’t seen the top yet.  Have you thought of planting an apple tree or growing a potted cherry tomato plant?  This is the time to do that.  It won’t feed you entirely in an SHTF situation, but it won’t hurt.

And most logically and obviously, you need to prioritize water in your preps.  We have a playlist on water on this site we will link to here: You will find everything from building a rainwater collection system to storing and purifying water.  You should also protect yourself from destructive wildfires that will continue to threaten more and more seemingly insulated neighborhoods in the west.  Even if you live in an area surrounded by water, and it’s raining now, you should still be making sure you have stored water on hand, the means to filter and purify water, and rain collection systems in place.  Simply collecting rain and using it to water your garden will save you hundreds of dollars per year.  It will also ensure you have a freshwater supply should the municipal supply ever become tainted or poisoned.  If you live in any one of the many states being directly impacted or threatened by drought, you absolutely have to do something to collect and conserve your personal water resources.


The majority of the country is suffering under the effects of the worst drought in over 1,200 years of scientific records.  There aren’t any rain clouds on the horizon right now.  Water tables continue to drop.  The heat will still set new records, and agriculture and infrastructure will continue to suffer.  You will feel the impact of this megadrought, no matter where you live in the US, especially if it doesn’t get better. You will feel it wherever you are if you rely on American farms or ranchers for your food.  You will feel it if you depend on low-cost utilities. Still, there are ways you can lessen this impact.  Find a video to help you out of this coming predicament in the City Prepping Water Playlist I will link to here and start working on a water-wise prepping solution today.


As always, stay safe out there.


Water Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5TAN1zJMd0cnX1HPGy8serU8DONliuup 

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