Worsening Drought in the West to be Featured Topic in May 20 Virtual Meeting

Worsening Drought in the West to be Featured Topic in May 20 Virtual Meeting

NHA thanks our sponsors:


Drought conditions in the western United States continue to worsen. According to David Raff, chief engineer for the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, more than half of the western U.S. is in a severe drought.

The U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior are forming an interagency working group to coordinate resources across the federal government to bring support to farmers, Tribes, and communities negatively impacted by ongoing water shortages. The group also plans to explore opportunities to improve resilience to droughts and other severe climate impacts.

Given the timeliness and importance of the topic, the May 20, 2021, virtual Southwest Regional Meeting, organized by the National Hydropower Association (NHA), features a special presentation by Reclamation hydrologist Heather Patno. Patno will share insight about the drought in the Colorado River Basin, including implications on hydroelectric generation and other water uses.

Other topics covered during the 2-1/2-hour meeting include the power outages in Texas occurring earlier this year, trends in rehabilitating existing hydropower projects, and an update from Washington, D.C.

Jay Anders, NHA Chairman of the Board of Directors, is emcee for the meeting; 13 companies are sponsoring the event.

Find the 3 easy steps to purchase a registration on the NHA website.


In certain areas of the region, lake levels today are lower than occurred during the Dust Bowl (the period of severe drought in the southwestern Great Plains lasting from 1930 to 1940).

Water allocation is at an historic low in the Colorado River Basin, experiencing its lowest 16-year period of inflow in over 100 years of record-keeping.

The Colorado River is a lifeline for the southwestern U.S. This body of water is approximately 1,400 miles long and travels through seven U.S. states. In addition to providing irrigation water to over 5.5 million acres of land, the dams and canals in the Colorado River system support 2,400 MW of electrical generating capacity, supplying power to millions of people.

The river basin is divided into the Upper and Lower basins, with the Upper Basin supplying approximately 90% of the water for the entire basin. The Upper Basin has been in a continuous extended drought since 2000, impacting regional water supply and other resources such as hydropower, recreation, and ecologic services. Despite this, the arid Lower Basin has not had to formally issue a drought.


Heather Patno, a hydraulic engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Glenn Canyon Dam operations, has a degree in Hydrology and Water Resources Science from the University of Utah.

“In looking at the past 20 years of drought, beginning in 2012 and anticipating what is going to be seen in 2021, this will be the driest 10 years on record,” says Patno. “There was the potential for a shortage declaration or some dry conditions. Our current modeling and predictions are that it’s a 90% chance that we’ll see that come next year.”

Patno adds, “We’ll be releasing less water down to [Lake] Mead [in Nevada], and we are looking at developing a plan to release more water from the upper reservoirs down to Lake Powell [in Utah] to increase storage.”


Registration for the 2021 Southwest Regional Virtual Meeting is currently open.

The 2021 Southwest Regional Virtual Meeting is sponsored by American Hydro, Andritz, Black & Veatch, Emerson, GE, HDR, Kleinschmidt, Mavel, Mesa Associates, Stantec, Troutman Pepper, Turbine Pros, and Voith.