As anyone who has heard or seen the news this first quarter of 2014 can tell you, drought topped the list of current event coverage. Allow some of the following headlines to illustrate:

Water shortages: What to expect in the future (February 17, 2014--Arizona Republic)
The 'American Nile' is in danger of water shortage: Grand Canyon at risk (February 4, 2014--Science World Report)
Drought in the West emptying reservoirs (February 3, 2014--New York Times)
The unprecedented water crisis of the American Southwest (February 2, 2014—Science)
Lake Mead nearing critical level (January 28, 2014--Mohave Daily News)
Western residents face threat of water rationing as feds reduce water flow (January 27, 2014--Fox News)Colorado River flows cut sharply across southwest due to drought (January 25, 2014--East County Magazine)Colorado River drought impacting region with no solution in sight (January 7, 2014--New West) 
Colorado River drought forces a painful reckoning for states (January 5, 2014--New York Times) 

In California, currently at 12% of average snowpack, a drought emergency was declared, and 17 communities are at risk of completely running out of water within 60 days. More California drought headlines:

California drought dries up hydro, nut power stays on (March 12, 2014--National Geographic)
California drought: The epic disaster that impacts us all (March 5, 2014--Huff Post)
Health experts warn of water contamination from California drought (February 19, 2014--Reuters)
Can anybody save California? (February 17, 2014—Politico)
Federal agencies and state of California coordinating response to drought (February 6, 2014--PRWEB.com)California drought saps water reserves above and below ground, says satellite data (February 4, 2014--Circle of Blue)
California drought prompts unprecedented water conservation efforts (February 2, 2014—Green)
17 California communities could run out of water (January 29, 2014--USA today)
14 reservoirs in Southern California near record lows (February 16, 2014--San Gabriel Valley Tribune)
Obama on California drought: Climate change threatens the nation (February 14, 2014--Huff Post)
California drought produces thirst for water – and political solutions (January 31, 2014--Merced Sun Star)
California water officials cut delivery as state drought deepens (January 31, 2014--Bloomberg Businessweek)Historic California drought called a red flag for future of US (January 23, 2014--Science Monitor)
As California’s drought deepens, a sense of dread grows (January 17, 2014--New York Times)
Gov. Jerry Brown declares drought emergency in California (January 17, 2014--Los Angeles Times)
California faces water shortages and wildfires as “mega-drought” gets even worse (January 17, 2014—Solon)How will the Golden State face an epic drought? (January 7, 2014--Huff Post)
Meager Sierra snowpack is way below average (January 3, 2014--Los Angeles Times)

Academics, researchers, and water professionals have been sounding the drought and water shortages alarm for decades, but times seem to be changing now due to the immanent and dire nature of the situation. According to a February study in BioScience, researchers at the University of York and the University of California, Davis concluded that water supply is the most pressing environmental issue facing the United States. A question on the water supply necessary to sustain human populations and ecosystem resilience was ranked as having the greatest potential, if it was answered, to increase the effectiveness of policies related to natural resource management in the U.S.

A topic attracting fervent debate in a normal year, water will crown the list of public policy concerns in the Western United States in 2014. Farmers will worry about having enough moisture to plant a crop. Farmworkers will be laid off. Hydropower generation will drop and force utilities to buy electricity on the market, a more expensive option. The recreation economy--which depends on reservoirs and rivers for boating, swimming, and rafting — will sag. In the summer, wildfires may rage. And arguments about how best to use a dwindling resource will reverberate across the West. Reservoirs in the nation’s two most populous states and in a watershed that supplies 40 million people with drinking water face unprecedented circumstances.