Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Site Section
By Sector

Water Utilities

Drought can result in significant operational impacts to water utilities, including a loss of water supply and poor source water quality. Building drought resilience for water utilities means increasing their ability to respond to water supply threats, withstand impacts from drought, and quickly recover when drought does occur.

U.S. Water Supply Conditions

The map depicts real-time streamflow conditions compared to historical streamflow conditions for the day of the year. U.S. Geological Survey stream gages are displayed alongside current drought conditions from the U.S. Drought Monitor. Learn more.

This map shows SNODAS snow water equivalent (SWE) values as a percent of normal. The SNOw Data Assimilation System (SNODAS) is a modeling and data assimilation system developed by NOAA's National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center (NOHRSC) to provide the best possible estimates of snow cover and associated parameters to support hydrologic modeling and analysis. Learn more

The National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) produces temperature outlooks for the U.S., which depict whether there is a greater chance for above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions during the noted time frame. This map shows the CPC's 6-10 day precipitation outlook. Learn more.

Streamflow Percentiles

The color with the hex code #ff0000 identifies:
Low
The color with the hex code #b12121 identifies:
Much Below Normal (< 10%)
The color with the hex code #ffa400 identifies:
Below Normal (10% - 24%)
The color with the hex code #00ff00 identifies:
Normal (25% - 75%)
The color with the hex code #40dfd0 identifies:
Above Normal (75% - 90%)
The color with the hex code #0000ff identifies:
Much Above Normal (> 90%)
The color with the hex code #000000 identifies:
High

U.S. Drought Monitor

The color with the hex code #ffff00 identifies:
D0
The color with the hex code #ffcc99 identifies:
D1
The color with the hex code #ff6600 identifies:
D2
The color with the hex code #ff0000 identifies:
D3
The color with the hex code #660000 identifies:
D4

SWE Percent of Average (%)

The color with the hex code #543005 identifies:
0 – 5
The color with the hex code #8c510a identifies:
5 – 25
The color with the hex code #bf812d identifies:
25 – 50
The color with the hex code #dfc27d identifies:
50 – 70
The color with the hex code #f6e8c3 identifies:
70 – 90
The color with the hex code #f5f5f5 identifies:
90 – 110

The color with the hex code #c7eae5 identifies:
110 – 130
The color with the hex code #80cdc1 identifies:
130 – 150
The color with the hex code #35978f identifies:
150 – 200
The color with the hex code #01665e identifies:
200 – 400
The color with the hex code #003c30 identifies:
400 – 800

Probability of Below-Normal Precipitation

The color with the hex code #f0d493 identifies:
> 33%
The color with the hex code #d8a750 identifies:
> 40%
The color with the hex code #bb6d33 identifies:
> 50%
The color with the hex code #9b5031 identifies:
> 60%
The color with the hex code #934639 identifies:
> 70%
The color with the hex code #804000 identifies:
> 80%
The color with the hex code #4f2f2f identifies:
> 90%

Probability of Above-Normal Precipitation

The color with the hex code #b3d9ab identifies:
> 33%
The color with the hex code #94cd7e identifies:
> 40%
The color with the hex code #48ae38 identifies:
> 50%
The color with the hex code #3a7b5f identifies:
> 60%
The color with the hex code #008e40 identifies:
> 70%
The color with the hex code #28553d identifies:
> 80%
The color with the hex code #285517 identifies:
> 90%
Source(s):

NOAA

Source(s):

CPC

Updates Daily  -  01/22/21
Updates Daily  -  01/19/21
Updates Daily  -  01/21/21
Key Issues

Operational Impacts

Drought impacts on water utility operations range from loss of water supply to increased costs and reduced revenues. 

Increasing Demand

Higher temperatures result in increased water demand for both agricultural irrigation and drinking water supply.

Aquifer Depletion

Limited surface water storage, among other factors, has contributed to significant depletion of aquifers in many U.S. regions.

Drought Impacts on Water Utilities

The water sector is central to public health and the economy. Water utilities ensure a reliable supply of clean water to communities and ecosystems and contribute significantly to the resilience of many other sectors, including agriculture, energy, and manufacturing. 

Drought can result in impacts to water utility operations, including:

  • Loss of water pressure and water supply
  • Poor water quality from the source that may require additional treatment to meet drinking water standards
  • Inability to access alternative and supplementary water sources because of high demand by and competition from other users
  • Increased customer demand
  • Increased costs and reduced revenues related to responding to drought impacts.

In dry years, many areas increase their reliance on groundwater. Groundwater provides more than 40 percent of the water used for U.S. agriculture and domestic water supplies. Increased pumping during droughts can reduce the future availability of those supplies, but strategies to replenish depleted underground aquifers can be helpful towards building drought resilience.    

The water utility sector works to respond to water supply threats, withstand impacts from drought, and quickly recover when drought does occur. Drought and water shortage planning is not just a best management practice for water suppliers; it is a requirement in a growing number of states and water management districts. A water shortage plan enables a water supplier to assess the risks and reduce the vulnerability of a community to water shortage impacts, and to establish priorities that will provide water for public health and safety and minimize impacts on economic activity and environmental resources. Long-term drought resilience strategies should also consider projected climate conditions and incorporate planning to estimate demand and identify supply solutions well into the future. 

To help the water utility sector build drought resilience, and even reduce risks from flooding, NIDIS is supporting research into Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO). FIRO is a reservoir-operations strategy that uses enhanced monitoring and improved weather and water forecasts to inform decision making in selectively retaining or releasing water from reservoirs to optimize water supply reliability and reduce flood risk. FIRO is being developed and tested on Lake Mendocino in California as a collaborative effort among multiple agencies and organizations. NIDIS is also working with researchers, NOAA forecasters, and water utilities to learn what steps are needed to integrate NOAA forecasts in reservoir operations and water resources management in the Southern Great Plains (Texas and Oklahoma).

Drought Early Warning for the Water Utilities Sector

Drought can imperil both the quantity and quality of the water supplied by utilities to the public. Therefore, early warning systems are vital for the water utility sector in strengthening its resilience to drought. The resources below are organized by the key components of a drought early warning system: (1) drought observation and monitoring; (2) drought planning and preparedness; (3) prediction and forecasting of drought; (4) communication and outreach to the public and affected sectors; and (5) interdisciplinary and applied research on topics of concern to drought-affected sectors.

Related Content

Data & Maps | Water Supply

Identify and access datasets and maps for monitoring water supply.

Data & Maps | Snow Drought

A collection of tools for accessing observed and forecasted snow data.