More than 40 million people rely on the water reserves stored by Lake Powell and Lake Mead, two of the biggest reservoirs in the United States, both of which are located along the Colorado River.
Water levels in each of these bodies have hit historic lows as the American West continues to suffer from severe drought.
The depth of Lake Powell, which runs through Utah and Arizona, fell to 3,554 feet this week, the lowest since it was first filled in the 1960s.
Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir by volume, is also at its lowest point since it was filled in the 1930s.
It’s now 1,067 feet deep, containing only one-third of its maximum capacity.
The supply of water for individuals living in drought-stricken areas is not the only issue at hand.
The energy production of the reservoir’s Hoover Dam decreases as the water level in Lake Mead lowers.
“Every foot of lake level decrease equals roughly 6 (megawatts) of capacity lost,” said Patricia Aaron of the US Bureau of Reclamation to CNN.
In recent years, the hydroelectric efficiency of the Hoover Dam has fallen by roughly 25%. And, based on estimates from government agencies, help is unlikely to arrive very soon.
“We expect Lake Mead’s elevation to continue to fall until November 2021,” Aaron stated.
Drought is also affecting other big bodies of water.
Last Monday, the Great Salt Lake reached new lows, falling to 4,191 feet. According to the US Geological Survey, the lake hasn’t been this low since 1963.
While alarming, “this information is essential in helping resource managers make educated decisions on Great Salt Lake resources,” according to Utah Water Science Center data head Ryan Rowland.
“What you don’t measure, you can’t manage.”
Although the low water levels are concerning, all indications suggest that this is not an unusual occurrence.
Rather, these levels will be the new normal, which water management agencies will have to adapt to.
The historic lows in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, according to Sharon Megdal, director of the University of Arizona’s Water Resources Research Center, indicate that “water users throughout the Colorado River Basin, particularly the Lower Basin, must prepare for lower Colorado River water deliveries over an extended period of time.”
Due to ongoing water constraints, governments and organizations will need to devise innovative methods to reduce water usage while maintaining present reservoir levels.
Desalination plants, for example, are presently under construction in California, according to ABC News.
Desalination is the process of extracting minerals from seawater to create drinkable water for drinking and farming. While it would be beneficial, the cost of water bills would almost certainly increase.
For more than two decades, the western United States has been under a near-perpetual drought, which some scientists refer to as a megadrought.
According to the most recent data available as of July 20, more than 99 percent of the West is experiencing drought, with more than 85 percent suffering “severe” to “exceptional” levels.
According to Eric Kuhn, former general manager of the Colorado River Conservation District, the problem has lasted long enough that it can no longer be called transitory.
“A drought, according to Merriam-Webster, is a transitory condition,” he explained. But something more terrible is taking place: “This is aridification.”