“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

Newsom Sets Aside $15 Billion for Climate Change Prevention

Newsom Sets Aside $15 Billion for Climate Change Prevention

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer Governor Gavin Newsom of California signed a $15 billion package to fund climate change and drought mitigation strategies. The new legislation consists of 24 bills that focus on climate and clean energy efforts, droughts, and wildfire preparedness.    Why this Matters: This is the largest climate funding package in […]

Continue Reading 309 words

One Cool Thing: Late Night Hosts Team Up for Climate

On Tuesday night, seven late night hosts teamed up for “Climate Night” and used their platforms to build climate change awareness. Planned to coincide with Climate Week NYC, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, and more took to the airwaves to talk infrastructure, environmental justice, and advice for how to talk to deniers. […]

Continue Reading 121 words
First New EPA Rule Under Biden Targets Greenhouse Gases 6,000 Times More Powerful Than CO2

First New EPA Rule Under Biden Targets Greenhouse Gases 6,000 Times More Powerful Than CO2

By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor The Biden Administration’s EPA finalized its first new climate rule on Thursday, slashing the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a class of greenhouse gases (GHG) that can warm the atmosphere at thousands of times the rate of CO2. The new rule establishes a program to cut HFCs — which are […]

Continue Reading 462 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.