Every year, the water in western lynchpin Lake Mead inches lower and lower.
Extended drought, higher temperatures, and higher-than-ever water usage needs are leading to a growing water crisis across the desert cities of the western United States.
Yesterday, a transformer blew at vital water infrastructure Hoover Dam. Although it could have been much, much worse, it was a sober reminder that the west's water supply is already in crisis, incredibly vulnerable and facing disaster.
Hoover Dam Explosion Causes No Disruptions - This Time
On July 19, news broke that there was an explosion at the Hoover Dam.
The Hoover Dam provides electricity to over one million people in Nevada, Arizona and California, channeling water from the Colorado River into Lake Mead.
News of the explosion immediately sent a ripple of fear throughout the west as people feared the worst. Luckily, this time it was just a transformer that didn't impact the dam's ability to keep producing.
But the fear and uncertainty people experienced was a grim reminder that the water infrastructures in the United States are aging, and their slow decline is coming up against the growing water crisis in the west - highlighting just how vulnerable dozens of large cities are with each passing year.
Speaking of Lake Mead, it too has reached a crisis point with the lowest levels in history.
Lake Mead provides water for a whopping 25 million people, and its slow dry-up has experts sounding all of the alarms.
Without Lake Mead, not only will people go thirsty and agricultural interests lack necessary resources, but without Hoover Dam creating power, cities will reach another crisis just as higher than ever before heat waves drive people to desperation with their air conditioning.
If the word "crisis" seems like it's being bandied about nonstop, that's because it's as apt as any word can be.
How Bad Will Things Get?
National Geographic explains, "Within as little as 50 years, many regions of the United States could see their freshwater supply reduced by as much as a third, warn scientists. Of all the freshwater basins that channel rain and snow into the rivers from which we draw the water we rely on for everything from drinking and cooking to washing and cleaning, nearly half may be unable to meet consumers’ monthly demands by 2071. This will mean serious water shortages for Americans.
Shortages won’t affect only the regions we’d expect to be dry: with as many as 96 out of 204 basins in trouble, water shortages would impact most of the U.S., including the central and southern Great Plains, the Southwest, and central Rocky Mountain states, as well as parts of California, the South, and the Midwest." The ripple effect will cause 40 of the 50 states in the US to experience water shortages, a staggeringly huge problem that will have real-world immediate consequences.
The effects are already beginning to trickle down. More fierce wildfire seasons, droughts, and livestock dropping dead from extended heat waves are all part of the growing crisis that will come crashing down within 50 years if something is not done.
If water levels drop too low, agricultural interests won't be able to supply water for their herds or water their crops, and that's even before you take into account what it would be like to turn on the tap and not find water pouring out.
And all of this is coming sooner than you think - but all is not lost.
Hope For the Future
It's not all doom and gloom. Because the crisis is reaching a boiling point, that means that social and political awareness is as well.
Currently, California is working overtime to produce desalination plants that will take salt water and make it potable. Unfortunately, desalinized water is still expensive, but it's the best option to replenish the rapidly drying interior water sources. It's not without impacts of its own however. Older plants tend to dump highly concentrated brine water back into their source waters, wreaking havoc on ecosystems. So any desalination plants that are used on a scale grand enough to make a dent in the western US crisis will need to be new - and conscious of what they do with their discarded water.
Limiting overgrazing and cutting back on personal water usage are both short-term ways to help combat the drought effects as it continues, but ultimately according to one expert until there are around 10 years of higher-than-average snowfall up in the mountains that then drains down into the rivers and lakes, humans will be working at a furious rate to break even.
The mega-drought which is now in its 22nd year shows no signs of abating. But severe and immediate action on climate change from countries around the world may help counter some of the effects of man-driven climate change and could help reverse some of the worst impacts of the drought.
Unfortunately, that action is still unenthusiastic at best. But as Lake Mead dries by the day and Hoover Dam becomes imperiled by the slow drying of the Colorado River, soon the problem can't be ignored.