• Some of the US’s most famous lakes could disappear as climate change worsens.
  • The Great Salt Lake in Utah could be gone in 10 years if nothing is done, an expert told Newsweek.
  • Lake Mead could hit “dead pool” in just a few years, plunging the Southwest into a serious water crisis.
  • Lake Powell reached its lowest levels this year.

As the climate crisis continues, some of America’s most famous lakes are in trouble. Some could even be gone within a decade.

Climate change is causing extremely long periods of drought, particularly in the western US, a region that has experienced extreme drought for more than two decades. Rising water temperatures caused by climate change are increasing evaporation, which in turn dries out the soil.

That means that with drought comes severe water shortages. Warmer periods not only cause water to evaporate, but water sources are used much faster than they can be replenished.

Experts are already urging officials to implement measures to conserve water, but the future looks bleak if nothing is done.

Some lakes are in real danger of drying up completely if the situation worsens. The experts spoke to news week over the most endangered lakes.

The great salt lake

Utah’s Great Salt Lake, the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, has hit record lows in recent months. The lake has now lost 73 percent of its water.

Ben Abbott, a professor of plant and wildlife sciences at Brigham Young University in Utah, said news week It could be gone in just ten years.

“Irrigated agriculture has diverted too much of the flow of the river on which the Great Salt Lake depends. If we don’t increase the amount of water going into the lake, it could be gone within a decade,” Abbott said. “Even those who live far from Utah will be affected if we lose the lake. Industry and agriculture across the country and beyond depend on magnesium and fertilizers from the Great Salt Lake, and it is the most important inland wetland in the western United States. USA”.

The lake reached its lowest level in recorded history in November 2022, at 4,188.2 feet, 17 feet below what it should be.

Abbott, along with two dozen other scientists and experts, contributed to a report published in January that outlined the dire consequences if emergency measures were not taken to save the lake immediately.

Great Salt Lake Satellite
Great Salt Lake Satellite

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A satellite image of the Great Salt Lake in June 1985, compared to a satellite image of the Great Salt Lake in July 2022.

The study reported that a decline in lake water levels has accelerated since 2020, “with an average shortfall of 1.2 million acre-feet per year.”

The scientists predicted an increasingly dire outcome: If the loss continues at this rate, the Great Salt Lake is on track to disappear within the next five years.

“The Great Salt Lake is in trouble primarily due to human overuse of water (and only second in trouble due to megadrought, caused by climate change),” Libby Blanchard, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Utah and an expert on energy, climate policy and the environment, said news week. “Irrigation for agriculture is responsible for approximately 3/4 of the total consumptive water use of the Great Salt Lake, for alfalfa and other crops.”

The Great Salt Lake not only provides water for agriculture and other methods of human consumption, but is an integral part of the local climate and surrounding ecosystems.

“Great Salt Lake is home to 80% of Utah’s wetlands and is the country’s only source of magnesium,” Abbott said.

“It also provides nearly half of the world’s supply of brine shrimp, which is essential for aquaculture. About half of the world’s farm-raised shrimp depend on the Great Salt Lake for their brine shrimp. The lake also protects quality As these lakes dry up, the sediment on the lake bed can become sources of toxic dust that causes illness and premature death.The dust can also be deposited in the snowpack, where it contaminates the water supplies and causes premature melting.

So what would happen if it dried up?

Blanchard said if the problem is not addressed, it could go the way of Owens Lake in Owens Valley, east of California’s Sierra Nevada, which dried up in 1926 when its water was diverted to Los Angeles.

“The drying up of Lake Owens in California caused the worst dust pollution in the US. Since then, more than $2.5 billion has been spent to reduce dust emissions from Lake Owens,” Blanchard said.

“However, the Great Salt Lake is much larger and is right next to a large metropolitan area. The human health implications of dwindling water levels could include poisonous dust storms from dangerous heavy metals. and carcinogens in the lake bed sweeping the area. The ecological implications could include the collapse of the lake ecosystem, which is a key ecosystem for 10 million migratory birds. In addition, there are huge potential economic losses.”

Spring snowmelt, which accumulated from many early winter storms in the western US, has recently increased the water levels of the Great Salt Lake, bringing a sigh of relief to many.

However, Blanchard said it’s worth noting that “while the record snowpack has helped the lake, it doesn’t change the long-term outlook.”

“The benefits are clear to save the Great Salt Lake. We must not underestimate the consequences of losing the lake,” he said.

lake mead

Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in the US, sits on the Nevada-Arizona border, and is formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.

It’s a popular recreational spot, but it’s now more famous for rapidly declining water levels. Located in an area experiencing severe drought and water shortages, Lake Mead’s water, which supplies 25 million people, is being used too quickly, with no means to replenish it.

In the summer of last year, the lake reached its lowest level yet recorded at around 1,040 feet. This was the lowest level since it was built in the 1930s. As of May 10, the lake’s water levels stood at 1,051.07 feet. The slight increase was due to wet weather that descended on the US over the winter, but again, it only provides a short-term fix.

The reservoir is slowly approaching “dead pool” level, around 895 feet, which would have dire consequences for the surrounding areas: plunge the Southwest into a major water crisis. And experts predict that this could happen in a few years.

An Office of Reclamation forecast released on August 31, 2022 shows the two-year and five-year projections for the lake. In the worst case, the water level could drop to just above 990 feet by July 2024.

Karyn Stockdale, senior director of western water for the National Audubon Society, said news week:”[Lake Mead] he could be in the dead pool in a couple of years. This is the point at which water cannot pass through the dams designed to provide water to California, Arizona, Nevada and northwestern Mexico.”

Water irrigated through the Hoover Dam shaped life in the Southwest as we know it. Las Vegas, for example, would lose 90 percent of its water supply if the water ran out.

“Ultimately, the only way to save the Colorado River and other major waterways in the West is to use less water. This means prioritizing system stability over maximizing all water deliveries. Our current rules, policies and funding are not enough to protect the West for the medium to long term,” Stockdale said.

“While we have had some successes aggressively changing federal, state and local laws and acquiring funds, both to save water and increase it, we must keep our foot on the accelerator. We must all have a seat at the table to protect our future in the West, this includes tribes, the environment, agriculture, cities, and legislators at the state and federal level.”

Lake Powell Bathtub Ring
The bleached “tub ring” is visible on the rocky shores of Lake Powell, Utah on June 24, 2021. The lake faces the threat of drying up.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

lake powell

Lake Powell is another Colorado River reservoir that faces the real threat of drying up in the near future.

Along with Lake Mead, Stockdale said 40 million people are at risk.

“They depend on the Colorado River’s water supply and a substantial part of the US agricultural economy, not to mention the hundreds of species of birds and all other living things that depend on the basin’s rivers for habitat.” .

In February of this year, Lake Powell water levels reached an all-time low of 3,521.77 feet. Since then, the water level has risen to 3,532.90 feet as of May 9, but it is still dangerously low.

If the lake’s water levels continue to drop at the current rate, they could reach dead pool levels of 3,370 feet in just a few years.

While the Great Salt Lake, Lake Mead, and Lake Powell are the most concerning as climate change worsens, there are many others in the US that face dire futures if nothing is done.

“Unfortunately, all of the lakes and reservoirs in the west are in trouble due to the ongoing drought. Yes, we had an above-average winter with lots of rainfall, and particularly some areas like California and Utah that are now flooding, but we would need to more than a decade of above-average winters to have confidence in our water supply,” Stockdale said.

“Trends over the past three decades tell us that climate change, increased diversion of water to meet our needs, and drought are here to stay. While some individual lakes and reservoirs are currently at ideal levels, one spring and a hotter summer will put enormous pressure on the entire water supply.”

Do you have any advice on a science story Newsweek should cover? Have a question about US lakes? Let us know via science@newsweek.com.

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