The West is running out of water. Years of extreme drought have taken their toll on lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Heavy rains come few and far between, and deep snowpack even less so.
In a changing climate — one that will likely spawn hydrological feast or famine — it’s never been more important to monitor and regulate our water consumption, and this easy tool can help you do that.
The western water tracker, developed by Dean Farrell, illustrates the growing crisis in an interactive way. Lake Mead and Lake Powell are the two largest reservoirs in the west, and both are below 50 percent capacity. Mead is expected to fall below its threshold for an official water shortage at the end of 2017, which would trigger major cutbacks — particularly in the state of Arizona — if a new agreement is not reached.
The last time Lake Mead was at full capacity was 1983.
Farrell’s app let’s you dig deep into the shallow pool of half-empty reservoirs. Click on a red lake, and see how it has been slowly draining over the past decade.
You can also widen your research to include entire states. California’s reservoirs, for instance, was at 66 percent of full capacity at the end of April — a recent high point thanks to a totally average West Coast rainy season. As recent as October 2015, the state was at 29 percent capacity.
Farrell notes that the California data do not include every reservoir in the state because it is simply not available, or because it’s impossible to determine the reservoirs’ capacity. The app also does not include water from desalination plants or ground water.
Even so, this tool is the best way we’ve found to get a snapshot of declining water levels in the West.