September 2022



The water level in Lake Mead has dropped more than 1,000 feet.

A drought is a long period of time without rain. A megadrought is a drought lasting two decades or more. Large parts of the western United States are currently suffering through a megadrought. Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California, and Wyoming are just some of the states that have been affected.

Several of these states rely on the Colorado River as a source for drinking water, irrigation for crops, and even electricity. Dams along the river form the two largest reservoirs in the United States—Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Both reached record low water levels this year. In fact, the last time Lake Mead was full was in 1983.

Lake Powell is at its lowest level since the reservoir was first filled. If the water level drops another 30 feet, the dam at the reservoir will no longer be able to create hydroelectric power. The dam supplies power to millions of people in Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Nebraska.

Droughts in 2022 have brought with them significant hardships. But, they’ve also contributed to some amazing discoveries. As water levels in Texas’s Paluxy River dropped they uncovered a rare find—dinosaur footprints. Receding waters in Lake Mead have uncovered a crashed WWII airplane, prehistoric arrowheads, and several shipwrecks.

Parts of Europe and Asia have also been experiencing severe droughts. As rivers and lakes dry-up, ancient artifacts are being rediscovered. In Spain, a prehistoric stone circle—similar to Stonehenge—has emerged from the depths of the Valdecanas reservoir. In China, statues of Buddha have resurfaced in the Yangtze River. The three statues were carved more than 600 years ago.

There’s no way of predicting when the current megadrought will end. Scientist have only identified a handful of megadroughts in the history of Earth. They do this by analyzing the rings in cut, cross-sections of trees. Each ring represents a year of growth. From tree rings, scientist can determine when floods, droughts, and other climate events have occurred in the past.

The longest known megadrought lasted about 30 years. The current megadrought is entering its twenty-third year. In the short term, people in the western United States will need to conserve water. In fact, the United States government and Mexico have reached an agreement to cut water usage from the Colorado River. Some western states will need to make cuts of up to 25 percent.

Scientists estimate that it will take several years of above-average rainfall to end the megadrought. The U.S. government and others around the world are also working to address the larger issue of climate change. The hope is that by tackling climate change, we can lessen the effects of, or even avoid, natural disasters like the megadrought.

Credit: ©Ronda Churchill/ZUMA Press/NewsCom
Question 1
What is a megadrought?

Question 2
By how much will some western states need to cut their water usage?

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