Question Sheet: A Dire Shortage of Water


Before reading:

  1. What causes a drought? For additional information about droughts, see Drought Mitigation Center). 
  2. In the United States, where are you most likely to experience a drought?

During reading:

  1. Why is the Colorado River Basin vital to the lives of people living in the southwestern part of the United States? 
  2. Compared to other types of natural disasters, what makes droughts particularly threatening? 
  3. How often does El Niño take place? How long does it last? 
  4. What is the difference between El Niño and La Niña? 
  5. Why does warm water in both the North Atlantic and the North Pacific produce droughts in the southwestern United States? 
  6. How are people in the southwestern United States contributing to the effects of the drought that is taking place in the Colorado River Basin?

After reading:

  1. Why could a drought affect the availability of electricity? 
  2. How do droughts affect the quality of drinking water? 
  3. In the article, Emily Sohn suggests that the drought cycle in the Southwest “feeds on itself.” What does she mean? Who are the most important contributors to such a cycle? 
  4. If you were the governor of a state or the mayor of a large city in an area affected by a severe drought, what measures would you take to conserve water and maintain water supplies?


  1. In geography, what is a basin? 
  2. Mapping is an important tool when studying weather patterns. Construct a map that shows the normal movement of winds across the Pacific Ocean. For additional information about global winds, see 
  3. Based on information in the article, what type of climate would you expect Indonesia to have? For additional information about Indonesia’s climate, see Intelligence Agency). 
  4. In what parts of the world have severe droughts taken place in the last 10 years? For some examples, see

    (World Health Organization), (Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology), and (Infoplease).


Why might it be important to educate people who move into the southwestern part of the United States on the dangers of droughts and the importance of conserving water? Write and illustrate a small pamphlet that explains to newcomers what they need to know about droughts and water.


The following table shows the amount of rain that fell at the airport in Phoenix, Arizona, each year from 1996 to 2003. In which year was rainfall highest? Lowest? What was the total amount of rain that fell from 1996 to 2003? What was the average rainfall per year during this period? Given that the average annual rainfall in Phoenix, taken over many

decades, is 8.29 inches, how many years from 1996 to 2003 had below-normal rainfall?

Plot the data on a graph. Is there a trend in the data?


Rainfall (inches)