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News Release

February Forecast: Limited water supply in westernmost states

Justin Fritscher, (202) 720-5776

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14, 2014 – A limited water supply is predicted in many areas west of the Continental Divide, according to data from this year’s second forecast by the National Water and Climate Center of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The Center monitors parts of eastern California, now in a state of emergency because of drought. The area is suffering one of the lowest snow years on record. While dry in the far west states, the report predicts a near normal water supply for most areas east of the Continental Divide in Montana, Wyoming and Colorado.  The center will continue to monitor and forecast water supplies for the next four months.

With the exception of New Mexico, which is extremely dry, conditions east of the Continental Divide are mostly near normal. Water supply then follows a gradient, becoming increasingly limited further west. The Center’s experts caution states further west – especially California, Nevada and Oregon – to prepare for a dry spring and summer. The mountain snowpack in Oregon is also far below normal this winter.  Most Oregonians depend on local sources for water supply. “We’re experiencing record breaking lows,” said NRCS Hydrologist Melissa Webb. “We’d need months of record-breaking storms to get to normal.”

Although NRCS’ streamflow forecasts do not predict drought, they provide information about future water supply in states where snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal water supply. In addition to precipitation, streamflow in the West consists largely of accumulated mountain snow that melts and flows into streams as temperatures warm into spring and summer. NRCS scientists analyze the snowfall, air temperature, soil moisture and other measurements taken from remote sites to develop the water supply forecasts.

USDA is partnering with western states to help mitigate the severe effects of drought on agriculture. The Department is also co-leading the National Drought Resilience Partnership, comprised of seven federal agencies collaborating to provide short and long term assistance to help states and communities respond to and plan for drought. 

Today, the Obama Administration announced additional assistance to help farmers, ranchers and residents affected by severe drought in California. The assistance includes $100 million in livestock disaster assistance for California producers, $15 million in targeted conservation assistance for the most extreme and exceptional drought areas, $5 million in targeted Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program assistance to the most drought impacted areas of California to protect vulnerable soils, $60 million to food banks in the State of California to help families that may be economically impacted by the drought and  $3 million in Emergency Water Assistance Grants for rural communities experiencing water shortages. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is also providing help to food banks through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).  Additionally, 600 summer meal sites are to be established in California's drought stricken areas. Today's announcements build on other recent USDA efforts to help farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners mitigate the impacts of drought.

Last week, USDA announced $20 million in Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funds for agricultural conservation enhancements on key agricultural lands in California. These enhancements include irrigation efficiency, cover crops, orchard pruning, and protection of grazing lands. USDA also announced $15 million in Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) in available funding to state and local governments, Tribes, universities, businesses and agricultural producers. These grants are dedicated to stimulating the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies, including those that will help communities adapt to drought and climate change.

Since 1935, NRCS has conducted snow surveys and issued regular water supply forecasts. Since the late 1970s, NRCS has been installing, operating and maintaining an extensive, high-elevation automated system called SNOTEL, designed to collect snowpack and related climatic data in the western U.S. and Alaska.

View February’s Snow Survey Water Supply Forecasts map or view information by state.

Other resources on drought include the U.S. Drought Monitor and U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook map, which forecast drought conditions through April 30, 2014. For information on USDA’s drought efforts, visit And to learn more about how NRCS is helping private landowners deal with drought, visit the NRCS website.


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