Lake water levels are historically low, forest fires are unusually early, water restrictions and record heat waves are now possible: even before the start of summer, the western United States is suffering from long-term droughts exacerbated by climate change.
Official data showed that 88% of the western region was in a dry state this week, including the entire state of California, Oregon, Utah and Nevada.
A particularly noticeable symptom of this trend is that Lake Mead, which affects more than 143 million Americans — the largest reservoir in the United States at the junction of Nevada and Arizona — is now at its lowest level since its creation in the 1930s.
This lake was formed when the huge Hoover Dam was built on the Colorado River not far from Las Vegas. It currently accounts for only 36% of its capacity, which is even lower than the record set in 2016.
The authorities expect such a thing to happen-but it will have to wait until August.
The situation in northern California usually has plenty of precipitation in winter and spring, but the situation is not much better. Lake Oroville is the second largest reservoir in the state and a key part of the network that provides drinking water to 27 million Californians, 50 meters (165 feet) lower than in 2019.
In the coming months, extensive water restrictions seem inevitable, which could have serious consequences for Western states, especially for farmers who rely on irrigation, who provide most of the country’s fruits and vegetables.
In California, its vast almond forest supplies 80% of the world’s production, and some farmers have begun to uproot the trees to save water.
As of April 1, which traditionally marks the date of the last snowfall in the area, the snow on the upper slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains-about one-third of California’s total water use-is only 60% of the average.
California Department of Water Resources official John Yarbrough told AFP: “Indeed, one thing that is unique this year is that as the snow melts, runoff eventually seeps into the dry soil and eventually evaporates,” never arrived. Oroville Lake News Agency.
“So this is something unusual this year, we get so little runoff from the snow.”
According to data from the United States Drought Monitoring Agency, one-third of California is currently experiencing “abnormal drought”, which is the most severe level.
Dry soil and water-deficient vegetation create conditions for higher temperatures and encourage a destructive vicious circle.
Meteorologists have issued a high temperature warning that Las Vegas may reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius), exceeding the record set in 1940.
The authorities are particularly concerned about forest fires. Forest fires arrived exceptionally early this year, and their intensity is rare. As of the end of May, California fires had destroyed 5 times the vegetation in the same period last year.