Water levels in Utah's Great Salt Lake and Lake Powell have dropped to their lowest levels ever recorded. This summer's extreme drought and compounding heat waves have triggered a water crisis in the Western half of the U.S.
The U.S. Geological Survey announced Utah's Great Salt Lake saw water levels drop an inch below the previous record low of 4,191.4 feet above sea level in1963.
As shown below, Great Salt Lake's water level has been declining over the last few decades, but recently, the megadrought has accelerated the decline.
According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, 99% of Utah is under "extreme" drought conditions. About 70% of the state is experiencing "exceptional" drought.
"It's already concerning that Great Salt Lake has been on a slow decline, but the drought has accelerated that decline," said Candice Hasenyager, deputy director of the Utah Division of Water Resources. "It's really alarming." There's still more room for the lake to drop even further through summer.
Meanwhile, Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir in the U.S., has dropped to 3,554 feet in elevation or 33% capacity — the lowest in over half a century since it was filled.
The lake is a crucial holding tank for outflow from the Colorado River Upper Basin States: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.
Brad Udall, a climate scientist at Colorado State University, told Cronkite News that increasing demand for water across seven U.S. and two Mexican states "that rely on the Colorado River had not declined fast enough to match the reduced supply.
If Powell falls even further, hydroelectric turbines will cease to run. The lake supplies water to up to 30 million people and irrigation of 5 million acres.
Suppose water levels continue to decline in both the Great Salt Lake and Lake Powell. In that case, it could trigger the first-ever water shortage declaration that would affect surrounding communities.