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5 Signs the Historic Drought Is Getting Much Worse

The drought is bad. Really bad. While the water catastrophe is usually associated with California, many other water-pinched states are also reeling from this historic drought. Here are five ways the devastating drought has affected lives, rural towns and even fish populations the American West.

Severe drought has caused lethal conditions for fish. About 50 dead sockeye salmon, infected with gill rot disease associated with warm water, were found this week in the Deschutes River.  
Photo credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

1. It's reached Portland. While fairing better than its neighbors, the entire state of Oregon is feeling some degree of drought, including normally wet Portland. The city is experiencing a moderate drought for the first time due to its "abnormally hot and dry conditions" this summer, OPB reported. “Washington had their warmest and third driest June ever, and Oregon was warmest and seventh driest,” Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Monitor, told OPB. “A lot has happened in June, on top of a warm and fairly snow-free winter.”

2. The West Nile virus is spreading. California, now in its fourth year of drought, is seeing numbers of the mosquito-borne disease. There were 801 reported human cases of West Nile virus in the state last year, with 31 people who succumbed to the disease, the Los Angeles Times reported. And according to the San Jose Mercury News, 152 dead birds and 348 mosquito samples across the state have also tested positive for the virus already this year.

Scientists suspect that rising temperatures and drought have exacerbated conditions in the parched state, since the dwindling number of watering holes have brought mosquitoes and birds into closer contact. "The lack of water can cause some sources of water to stagnate, thus making the water sources more attractive for mosquitoes to lay eggs," Gil Chavez, deputy director of the California Department of Public Health, told the Mercury News.

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3. The poor are relying on water bottles and drinking toxic water. As wells and groundwater dry up due to the ongoing drought and nearby agricultural and mining operations, some families in California’s rural San Joaquin and Coachella valleys have (for years) been subsisting on bottled water and consuming potentially hazardous levels of arsenic-laden water, The Washington Post reported. While county officials and local nonprofit groups such as Coachella’s Pueblo Unido are finding ways to generate potable water for their communities, the efforts are expensive and only temporary.

4. Seattle isn't getting any rain. The typically rain-soaked city hasn't seen more than a tenth of an inch of rain in 42 days, according to local news affiliate KIRO 7. (Fingers crossed that El Nino brings much-needed reprieve to the West).

Making matters worse, local firefighters have warned that the lack of rain caused by drought is only causing homes to light up faster. "Just like the brush that's around the area [referring to a mobile home that burned down at Empire View Mobile Home Park], homes are also starting to dry up,” Dave Nelson, public information officer for Skyway Fire Department told the news station.

5. River fish are dying from heat and disease. Record low snowpacks and record high temperatures have caused low-flowing, extra-warm rivers this summer, leading to salmon and trout deaths. As the Associated Press reported, a Wild Fish Conservancy survey of 54 rivers in Oregon, California and Washington revealed that three-quarters were warmer than 70 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that could be fatal for salmon and trout. In fact, "scores" of dead salmon were found in the Willamette River in June, and about 50 dead sockeye salmon, infected with gill rot disease associated with warm water, were found this week in the Deschutes River, the news agency reported.

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