Lake Powell rock slide, Lake Mead drought and Great Salt Lake dust?

The “mega-drought” in the western United States is believed to be the worst in at least 1,200 years. As many once great lakes are experiencing historically low levels, the populations around them are suffering the consequences.

Lake Powell

The reservoir, part of the famous Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, stretches from northern Arizona to southern Utah. The Colorado River feeds the lake, and because of the drought, the river’s water is “chronically overused” according to the Los Angeles Times. People along the Colorado River have used more than the sustainable allocation to compensate for water shortages, and the federal government is struggling to manage competing water needs.

A massive rockfall event was filmed by boaters over Memorial Day weekend. CNN reports that Tyler Knudsen, a senior geologist with the Utah Geological Survey, said “historic water level fluctuations have contributed to high rockfall generation,” but they can’t know for sure what which caused the slippage. Lake Powell’s water level is down 28 feet from last year and 26% of total volume, which may add to instability in the region.

The Great Salt Lake

The Great Salt Lake has lost half its volume of water in the past 150 years, according to Science.org. Much of this decrease is due to increased human consumption of water before it reaches the lake.

KSL reports that industrial activities near the lake can be blamed for hazardous compounds found in the lake bed, and these chemicals find their way into the wider ecosystem. The Great Salt Lake is a wide, shallow body, with an average depth of 14 feet.

As parts of the lake dry up, researchers fear the wind is picking up toxic particles and blowing them towards nearby people in the valley. In addition, birds and insects feed on plant matter that has absorbed these contaminants, posing health risks to wildlife and humans.

Lake Mead

Created by the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the country. CNN predicts that water levels will drop another 12 feet in the fall, although they have already fallen to record lows. The federal government first announced a water shortage on the Colorado River last year, according to The New York Times. As the water crisis continues to worsen, less water will be released from the lake which serves much of the Southwest.

To advance

Many factors contribute to the slow draining of the largest reservoirs in the West, but one of the biggest contributors is human consumption. As the water budget tightens again, local governments will need to find a way to encourage their residents to use less water to avoid further environmental damage.

Virginia F. Goins