Natural Disasters Have Recovery Periods
Natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and wildfires have recovery periods. The same is true for droughts, yet we rarely talk about that recovery period. Even when a drought is declared over, its effects are felt long after the fact.
Until our waters are back to their pre-drought levels, our basin still experiences the impacts of drought. That's why our mindset needs to shift to always being in or near drought.
The reality is that our water basin is in a constant cycle of entering a drought or recovering from it. Our typically dry conditions make that recovery even harder. We never know how long it will be before dry conditions lead into the next drought.
Conditions to Care About
The timeline graph below shows us this cycle over the past twenty years. Here are a few highlights:
See all that orange? That’s the “dry” years – the ones that had below average rainfall. They dominate the timeline because that’s our normal condition: dry.
Dry periods lead into even drier ones called drought. Drought cycles are showing up more often. There was only seven years between the last two droughts. So, we likely don’t have a lot of time to help the basin recover before dry conditions start again.
Notice how few blue bars there are? Those are the above-average rain years—just four. Those four years of more rain don't equal 16 years of low rain. Having only a few rainy years makes it hard for the basin to recover from drought. That's why we all have an important role to take care of these waters so that we can make up for the rain we don’t naturally receive.
The blue line across all the years is the level of the basin's waters. In the last two decades, they were at their highest at 265' right before the 2007 drought. Then, dry conditions over multiple years caused these waters to drop to 190'. We had a few good rain years in 2010-11, but the basin's waters never reached that previous high mark before dry conditions lead into another drought.
That brings us to today. The last drought from 2014-2017 was record-breaking. It caused these waters to drop to 170’. They have been recovering and are at 210' right now. But if a drought started today, these waters would be lower than they were before the last two droughts began. That's not a position any of us want to be in, especially as droughts become more frequent and severe.
Basin Levels and Drought Conditions Since 2000