Millions of people in the western United States risk seeing reduced access to both water and electricity as two of the nation’s largest water bodies continue to dry up inch by inch. The United Nations issued a warning on Tuesday that water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell are at historic lows and are approaching dangerously “dead pond” status.
Such a state means that water levels are so low that water cannot flow downstream to power hydroelectric power plants.
Inlocated in Nevada and Arizona, the largest man-made body of water in the country, the levels have gotten so low that it has essentially become a cemetery – dried fish ea dating back to the Second World War have so far been discovered from under the now shallow waters. The walls of the lake are divided by two contrasting colors which reveal the line on which the water once sat.
At maximum capacity, the lake is expected to reach an altitude of 1,220 feet, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory. On this day in 2020, Lake Mead stood 1,084 feet above mean sea level. Today I’m at 1,040. NASA said this could be the worst drought in the region in 12 centuries and that water levels must remain above 1,000 feet to continue providing hydroelectricity at normal levels.
Lake Powell, which is located in Utah and Arizona, is the second largest reservoir in the nation and is experiencing a similar situation. The last time the lake was full was in 1999, but the water isthan it was last year. Until Thursday, it was only a quarter full.
Both lakes provide water and electricity to tens of millions of people in seven states, as well as irrigation water for agriculture.
Lis Mullin Bernhardt, an ecosystem expert with the United Nations Environment Program, said conditions “have been so arid for more than 20 years that we are no longer talking about drought.” The fault lies with the climate crisis and excessive water consumption, the UN says.
“We are referring to is ‘aridification’, a very dry new normal,” they said in a statement.
And even if water cuts are introduced to try to ration the supply, it may not be enough.
“Climate change is at the heart of the matter,” said Maria Morgado, UNEP’s Head of Ecosystems for North America. “In the long term we must address the root causes of climate change and the demand for water.”
These demands for water are only exacerbated by the climate crisis, the UN said, as much of the country faces a brutal circumstance of more frequent and intense droughts and extreme heat.
“These conditions are alarming,” Bernhardt said, “and particularly in the Lake Powell and Lake Mead region, it’s the perfect storm.”
The United States is one of 23 countries that faced drought emergencies between 2020 and 2022, according to a United Nations drought report earlier this year. Water stress is “relatively high” in the nation, as nearly three-quarters of available renewable water resources are used each year. Along with a public health and infrastructure burden, this also creates a financial one: In 2020, California lost between $ 10 and $ 20 billion due to wildfires and droughts.
Although drought accounts for only about 15% of natural disasters, they cause 60% of deaths from extreme weather conditions worldwide. In less than 30 years, scientists predict that more than three-quarters of the world’s population will be affected.
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