Best of the West: Drought dries the West, aging farmers create challenge, addressing the rural broadband gap

Water, The West

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the western stories for the week starting February 5, 2018, that you don't want to miss. Image: Lake Powell, Associated Press

Typically in February, western states receive rain and snow that will sustain the region in drier months. Although reservoirs across the West are full, low precipitation and record-breaking warm temperatures in recent months have resulted in drought across the region. Lake Powell, which straddles Utah and Arizona, is only expected to get 47 percent of its average inflow because of scant snow in the mountains that feed the Colorado River.

Despite recent storms in Colorado, mountain snowpack remains grim, and with storms skipping the state, half of California is now back in drought. "We need several years of normal precipitation, and we need that snowpack," said Scott McLean, deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico and Southern California are facing unusually dry conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The only western state where all basins have snowpack levels near normal is Montana.

Farmers Look to Next Generation: As the average age of farmers and ranchers continues to rise, rural land owners in Wyoming are planning for their succession despite fewer young people joining the industry. Learn how the state is working to lower barriers to entry for young people to take over when farmers and ranchers retire.  

Internet for All? Interest in expanding high-speed internet—and who has access—is growing across the country. The “broadband gap” is particularly felt in western rural communities. View two FCC maps demonstrating the digital divide, and learn how Colorado lawmakers are working to increase access. Also watch the keynote, Closing the Digital Divide, by Microsoft’s Ryan Harkins at the WGA Workforce Development Washington workshop.   

Will Wine Recover from Wildfires? A study has found that wildfire smoke can influence the flavor of wine, regardless of the flavor of the grapes at harvest. Pacific Northwest winemakers worried about the effect of smoke following last year’s fires, but a new survey of 200 California vineyards indicates a positive economic recovery. In other fermentation-related news, the Hop Growers of America says the Pacific Northwest has reached peak hop production. 

Go West, Young Millennial: A new report by Brookings examines the demographic makeup of millennials, including where they live. “Among metropolitan areas, the 15 with the highest shares of millennials are all in the fast-growing South and West, such as Austin, San Diego, and Los Angeles.” View a map and read the report.

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