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Feds Pledge Assistance As Historic Drought Grips The West

Drought map May 2021
U.S. Drought Monitor
Drought conditions as of May 25.

Parts of the Mountain West are experiencing the worst drought conditions in more than a century, prompting the Biden administration to pledge a government-wide response to the crisis.

On Tuesday, administration officials testified during a virtual congressional hearing on the drought. They included Craig McLean, the acting chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

"NOAAs archives at the National Centers for Environmental Information report that this past year has been for Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah their driest in 126 years," McLean said.

As the drought deepens, McLean said, it will cause significant water and crop shortages as well as severe wildfires.

Elizabeth Klein, who's spearheading drought response for the Interior Department, also testified, and she didn’t mince words.

"Many of you are experiencing the impacts of one of our driest water years on record," she said. "The scale and intensity of this drought is really historic."

Klein told lawmakers that the Biden administration wants federal government agencies to work together and identify which tribal, state and local governments need immediate financial assistance to mitigate the impacts of drought across the West. She said the administration also plans to boost funding to address water shortages in its budget proposal, in addition to clean energy development and climate research.

"No amount of investment can fully compensate for profound shortfalls in the amount of precipitation needed to balance out demands in years like this," Klein said. "In these situations, active partnerships, careful management, and creative stewardship ... are the only way forward for the security of our farms, cities, and the environment."

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Nate Hegyi is a roving regional reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at Nevada Public Radio. You can reach him at natehegyi@protonmail.com.