“Megadrought” Takes Lake Mead to an All-Time Low

Screenshot: CBS News

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

The nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, created by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, has reached record lows (at only 36% full) in the face of a severe drought sweeping the western U.S. The reservoir supplies drinking water for 25 million people in Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, and more. Low water levels also mean 25% less hydropower being produced at Hoover Dam.  Watering bans are now in effect in parts of Las Vegas, and the Governor of Utah released an unsettling video last week, asking residents to literally pray for rain. And as wildfire season dawns on the west, experts worry that the devastation may blow past previous records.

Why This Matters: Drought is becoming a permanent fixture across the west, and dry conditions are moving further east each year. Not only does this create prime conditions for wildfires, but it also creates water insecurity for millions of people. Marginalized communities stand to suffer most from growing drought because they already disproportionately lack reliable access to clean water. Compounded with rising heat and failing power grids, water scarcity in the west could be life-threatening for millions of people. Drought can also take a significant toll on the post-pandemic recovering economy; since 1980, droughts have cost the U.S. $259 billion. Worse yet, soon the government will have no choice but to cut off the spigot for farmers in the region.  

Bless the Rains

As of Wednesday, the lake’s surface dipped below the 2016 record low, falling to 1,071.56 feet above sea level. Since 2000, it has fallen 140 feet. “There’s going to be a lot of pain in this drought,” said Jay Lund, a professor at the University of California Davis. “It’ll be catastrophic for some communities and for some local industries. It’ll be catastrophic for some fish species. But it’s not going to be catastrophic statewide.” But North Dakota Farmer Devin Jacobson isn’t so sure. He fears he’ll have to abandon part of his crops, spanning 3,500 acres, which have seen less than three inches of rain this season. This is a growing worry for farmers across the west, and agriculture accounts for about 80% of California’s water use. 

Lund says that water restrictions will prevent catastrophe, emphasizing that California has survived droughts in the past with similar policy. The Regional Water Authority, which supplies water for 2 million residents in and around Sacramento, has now asked residents to reduce their water consumption by 10%. Governor Gavin Newsom has issued a drought emergency declaration for 41 out of 58 counties. Utah Governor Spencer Cox has already asked citizens to use water conservatively, but the drought has now reached 90% of the state, and even he seems to be losing faith. “I’ve already asked all Utahns to conserve water by avoiding long showers, fixing leaky faucets, and planting water-wise landscapes. But I fear those efforts alone won’t be enough to protect us,” Cox said in a video posted last Thursday. “We need more rain, and we need it now. We need some divine intervention.”

Experts hope that these methods can tide the populace over until the rains arrive again. This drought, however, turns 22 this year and is the most prolonged dry period in 115 years of record-keeping. Some have gone so far as to call it a “permanent drought.” With innovative water management techniques, states can preserve more of their water resources. Still, it’s clear that the only way to truly end the drought is to put an end to catastrophic temperature rise. 

Up Next

US Green Diplomat Previews Glasgow

US Green Diplomat Previews Glasgow

By WW0 Staff For the United States, the post-Trump, pre-COP26 road to Glasgow has been paved with ambition and humility. In a major speech, the President’s Envoy, John Kerry, previewed the results of his climate diplomacy before heading into two weeks of intense deliberations of world leaders. Speaking at the London School of Economics — […]

Continue Reading 421 words
One Cool Thing: COP26 Coverage Kickoff

One Cool Thing: COP26 Coverage Kickoff

Next week, the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow will draw hundreds of world leaders to Glasgow to determine the path forward five years after the Paris Climate Agreement (for a primer, read this) as new science underscores the urgency. The conference aims to squeeze countries to strengthen the commitments they’ve made towards securing global net-zero […]

Continue Reading 194 words
DOD Says Climate Change Increases National Security Risks

DOD Says Climate Change Increases National Security Risks

By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor In a report released last week, the Department of Defense (DOD) confirmed that existing risks and security challenges in the US are being made worse due to “increasing temperatures; changing precipitation patterns; and more frequent, intense, and unpredictable extreme weather conditions caused by climate change. Now, the Pentagon is […]

Continue Reading 440 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.