Is the 2020 water year a drought? 

Maybe for some, but mostly not yet.

In some pragmatic senses, a drought is a dry event that water users are not prepared for.

For some users and uses, a single dry year is a drought.  This includes upland habitats which depend on soil moisture to get through our long dry season, more junior summer and fall water users on streams without reservoirs, rural water users with marginal supplies subject to groundwater depletion, and wetland and aquatic habitats, especially if they lack supplemental water supplies.

The difficulties of managing drought increase with a drought’s duration. Most of America, even ecosystems, are adapted to a long single dry season, preceded by a wet season.  A dry year extends and reduces water stored for this dry season.  Sequential dry years further reduce the water stored in soils, reservoirs, and groundwater for dry-season water demands.

By the third and fourth dry years, ecosystems and human water supply systems go from straining to breaking.  In long multi-year droughts, cities can be forced to ration water, farmers must consider sacrificing their most profitable crops, more rural drinking water supplies are left dry by declining groundwater, and salmon runs can no longer rely on stored cold water.

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