Climate Change and Drought

dry, cracked soil with plants growing

Drought is a prolonged dry period caused by less than normal rainfall or snowfall for an extended period of time. Drought can lead to water shortages, meaning there is less water available for drinking, food production and swimming. It can also lead to other impacts such as poor water quality and more wildfires. Drought can affect our physical and mental health as well as the local economy. Drought conditions sometimes take years to develop and can last as short as one season or as long as many decades.

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How does drought affect health?

Drought can have severe effects on our health, our communities and the environment. The effects vary depending on where the drought is occurring, how intense it is, and how long it lasts. Here are some examples:

  • Drinking water shortages – A reduced water supply can affect both the quantity and quality of drinking water. This can lead to less water available for public water systems (town or city water) and lead to dry or contaminated private wells.
  • Swimming water hazards – Swimming waters can more easily become contaminated when water levels are low. Drought conditions can cause more cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms. Low water levels can also increase the risk for injuries when someone dives or jumps into shallow water that is normally deeper.
  • Food shortages – Drought conditions can cause less food to be produced, more food to be lost, and more stress for farm and wild animals. Food shortages can also lead to economic stress for farmers and higher food prices for consumers.
  • Wildfires and air quality – The dry conditions caused by drought increase the risk for wildfires. This can lead to poor air quality from wildfire smoke. Dry conditions also cause more substances to be in the air, like dust and pollen, that can lead to health problems of the lungs, nose and throat.
  • Mental health – Drought can increase uncertainty and financial stress for people who rely on water supply for their livelihood. People affected by drinking water shortages or wildfires can also experience anxiety and stress.
How will climate change affect drought?

As our climate continues to change, droughts will happen more often. All of these changes will increase how severe droughts are, how often they happen, and how long they last:

  • Warmer air temperatures will cause more moisture to evaporate from water bodies, soil and vegetation.
  • Warmer winters will result in more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow and cause snow to melt earlier in the year. This lowers the snowpack that would otherwise trickle into water bodies throughout the spring when water is needed more.
  • More intense rain events instead of light and moderate rain will cause more water to run off directly into surface waters. This lowers the amount of water that would usually have time to absorb into the ground and recharge groundwater aquifers.

Take Action

What can I do to reduce my water usage?

Improve indoor water efficiency

  • Fix leaking faucets. Calculate how much water a leaking faucet wastes in your home.
  • Install faucet aerators on your kitchen and bathroom sinks.
  • Install WaterSense-labeled showerheads, faucets and toilets.
  • Choose Energy Star-certified appliances with water-saving features when it’s time to replace your clothes washer or dishwasher.
  • Consider installing a composting toilet.

Reduce outdoor water usage

  • Mow grass no shorter than 2 to 3 inches.
  • Reduce lawn areas that require heavy watering to maintain.
  • Plant native and drought-tolerant plants.
  • Use mulch around plants.
  • Avoid watering during the hottest part of the day and try not to overwater.
  • Use drip irrigation for landscaping and gardens.
  • Collect rainwater or greywater to water your landscaping or gardens.

Check out more water conservation tips from the Environmental Protection Agency