Historically low-lying lakes, unusually early wildfires, restrictions on water use, and now a potentially record heat wave: even before summer begins, the western United States suffers the effects of chronic drought worsened by climate change.
Eighty-eight percent of the West was in a state of drought this week, including the entire states of California, Oregon, Utah and Nevada, according to official data.
In a particularly obvious symptom of this trend, which affects more than 143 million Americans, Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir, located on the Nevada-Arizona border, is now at its lowest level since from its creation in the 1930s.
The lake, formed when the huge Hoover Dam was built across the Colorado River, not far from Las Vegas, has a 36% capacity, even below a record set in 2016.
Authorities expected something like this, but not until August.
The situation in Northern California, which typically receives heavy rainfall in the winter and spring, is no better. Lake Oroville, the second largest reservoir in the state and a key part of a network that provides drinking water to 27 million Californians, is 50 meters (165 feet) lower than in 2019.
Widespread restrictions on water use appear inevitable in the coming months, with potentially serious ramifications for Western states, particularly irrigation-dependent farmers, who provide much of the country’s fruits and vegetables.
In California, whose vast almond groves supply 80% of world production, some farmers have already begun uprooting trees to save water.
As of April 1, the date traditionally marked by the last snowfall in the area, the snow pack on the upper slopes of the Sierra Nevada (source of about one-third of the water used in California) it was 60% of the average.
“Actually, one thing unique this year is that as the snow melted, the runoff ended up being absorbed into dry soils and ended up evaporating,” never reaching Lake Oroville, he told the ‘AFP John Yarbrough, an officer in the California Department of Water Resources. news agency.
“So that’s what was unusual this year, the little runoff we’ve gotten from this snowpack.”
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, one-third of California is currently experiencing “exceptional drought,” the worst level.
And dry soils and water-deprived vegetation create the conditions for even higher temperatures, feeding a devastating vicious circle.
Meteorologists have issued heat warnings, saying Las Vegas, for example, could reach 46 Felshreheit, surpassing the record set in 1940.
Authorities are especially concerned about the forest fires, which have come unusually earlier this year and with little intensity. By the end of May, fires in California had already destroyed five times as much vegetation as last year at that time.