Setting the Stage
Tell students that much of the Western United States has been impacted by drought in the last fifteen years, with California being hit the hardest since 2011. According to National Geographic, "a drought is an extended period of unusually dry weather, when there is not enough rain." Droughts can impact every aspect of the natural and human environment, from killing plants and animals to forcing human migration due to water scarcity. In California's Central Valley, the most productive agricultural region in the U.S., the drought is threatening the land, farmers, and nearby towns.
Explain to students that droughts can be naturally occurring and can also be exacerbated by human activities, such as over-use of groundwater and changes in precipitation due to climate change. The current drought in California is caused largely by natural weather cycles, according to NOAA.
Ask students to think about their own home, neighborhood, or town. What changes have students noticed locally? Have they noticed less rain and drought conditions, like many Western states, or more rain and increased storms? In what ways have these environmental changes impacted students, their families, and their communities?