On the Arizona-California border, the Colorado River below the Palo Verde Dam is running at 110 percent of its median flow. Utah is “having an astounding winter,” and “in certain watersheds, it’s breaking records.” In New Mexico, the Pecos River near Lake Arthur is flowing at 108 percent of its median. Flagstaff’s “received 84.5 inches of snow in the season to date, well above its normal total of 46.6 over the last 30 years.” (More is on the way today and tomorrow.) The Muddy River near Glendale, Nevada is at 99 percent of its median.

Great news. But let’s not forget that quite recently, in their endless worst-case-scenarioing about the “climate crisis,” media within and beyond the American Southwest were breathlessly “reporting” that the region was plagued by a “megadrought”:

Santa Fe New Mexican (editorial): “It’s not a drought — it’s a megadrought”

• National Public Radio: “Study finds Western megadrought is the worst in 1,200 years”

• Associated Press: “West megadrought worsens to driest in at least 1,200 years”

• WBUR’s On Point: “How New Mexico is learning to live with the megadrought”

The Washington Post: “Rio Grande runs dry in Albuquerque for the first time in 40 years”

Tony Heller is a geologist who was born and raised in New Mexico, worked as a wilderness ranger northeast of Santa Fe, and is a former employee of Los Alamos National Laboratory. He took particular issue with the Post‘s hysterical headline. In a devastating debunking video made right after the article was published, Heller explored U.S. Geological Survey data showing that north of Albuquerque, the Rio Grande’s flow was “normal,” and down at Elephant Butte, it was “much higher than normal.” (Watch the video to learn what he believes to have happened in the Duke City.) Furthermore, long-term data reveal that New Mexico “has swung back and forth between very wet periods and very dry periods many, many times,” Heller inconveniently noted. Centuries before America had SUVs, China had air conditioning, and India had call centers, water supply in the Land of Enchantment was wildly variable.

Nine years ago, a California media outlet conducted a similar assessment: “The longest droughts of the 20th century, what Californians think of as severe, occurred from 1987 to 1992 and from 1928 to 1934. Both, [Scott Stine, a professor of geography and environmental studies at Cal State East Bay] said, are minor compared to the ancient droughts of 850 to 1090 and 1140 to 1320.”

Source: Paul Rogers, “California drought: Past dry periods have lasted more than 200 years, scientists say,” Bay Area News Group, 25 January 2014

But don’t expect “green” politicians, eco-activists, and left-wing ideologues disguised as journalists to explain the complete facts on drought here or anywhere else. Fully on board with the belief that “the science is settled,” they’ll deploy anecdotes, preposterous predictions, and outright dishonesty to demonize coal, oil, and natural gas.

You’ll find no better example of such trickery than NASA’s depiction of Lake Mead‘s water loss between December 2000 and June 2022. Look at the chart below.

“Lake Mead Keeps Dropping,” EOS Project Science Office, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, undated

Those savvy about statistics will quickly realize that the vertical axis does not begin at zero. Thus, the casual observer will be shocked by an apparent 88 percent loss over the two decades. In reality, the loss was 14 percent. Unwanted, of course, in a consistently thirsty region of the country, but nowhere close to the catastrophe presented.

What’s the future for drought in the American Southwest? No one knows. In all likelihood, water levels will continue to be annoyingly erratic — regardless of whether the energy sector is “decarbonized” via costly government mandates.

By D. Dowd Muska

Dowd brings nearly 30 years of research and writing experience to the Institute. A veteran of several think tanks, he is an expert on government at the municipal, county, state, and federal levels.

Raised on an apple orchard in the Connecticut River Valley, D. Dowd Muska is a researcher, writer, editor, and commentator. His focus is the nexus of fiscal policy, economic development, and technology.

Mr. Muska is the author of numerous policy studies, and his writing has appeared in newspapers throughout the nation, including the Las Vegas Review-Journal, The Detroit News, the Orlando Sentinel, the Cape Cod Times, the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Hartford Courant, the Waco Tribune-Herald, the Albuquerque Journal, the New Haven Register, and The Oklahoman. A graduate of The George Washington University, he lives in the Albuquerque metro area, but has started (very) early planning for a relocation to the Sierra Blanca in Lincoln County, New Mexico. He recently launched the Substack platform No Dowd About It.

4 replies on “What About the ‘Megadrought’?”

Doomsday cullt disappointed yet again, as 3rd La Niña ends. The public policy still continues in a federal – NM state program to pay middle Rio Grande farmers $425 per fallowed acre in 2022 to offset 127,000 acre ft water owed to TX in Rio Grande Compact settlement, and to provide for silvery minnow habitat. It’s complicated. Megadrought scare is leading farmers & ranchers to depend on government or sell out altogether.

Mr. Muska is right and the commenters are right! If anything it will be much colder than normal the next 20 or more years meaning more cold and winter snow. People need to insulate their nests this summer and take steps for backup energy systems. I believe we need maximum insulation in attics and walls. I also think new home building needs new architectural thinking for more efficient heat holding and holding heat inside interior walls for the worst cold spells while keeping water lines from freezing by keeping water supply and water heater gallerys in the interior parts of buildings. Nothing wrong with solar but we should be looking at off grid backup when the public power supply’s are off line. That is and will be the problem. We are under supplied and the transmission lines systems need upgrade and the computer operations systems need help. We are also going to need too harden the substations with the new Asymmetrical War Strategys coming into action. The big news doesn’t seem to want to tell us how many sabotage events have occurred around the country but it must be over fifty by now. Power Company’s are wasting money killing cheap energy production that is still viable while coming up with ways to let people go off the system when the supply line goes down so they can use the solar for backup. No one has really planned for these problems because the Power Companys wanted all the free power that individuals could provide to boost their peak supply sales and prifits. When large systems are down there is no backup. I repeat, we need better new home designs, insulation and easy off grid solar power when the whole power system goes down. Time for new thinking to build solar panel fields that that supply a specific group of homes instead of the system when the system goes down and the power is wasted.
Switch to a small closed system and off the major supply line going to nowhere.

Growing up as a boy on the bluff above the Rio Grande in Albuquerque, I can remember the river going dry almost every year during the ’60s and ’70s –usually toward the end of June. As with most ‘science’ these days, it’s all about twisting the data. It is easy to divert river water to the irrigation canals. It is easy to empty reservoirs by opening the dam. It is easy to elevate ‘recorded temperatures’ by placing the sensors close to metropolitan centers, covered by concrete and asphalt. It all depends on the ‘result’ you want to report.
Real Science, on the other hand, is interested in the truth.

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