Lakes Mead and Powell are facing even lower water levels as the California drought eases

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Time for a wet season in the West is over, but recent storms have done wonders for snow and drought in much of the region, especially in California.

“Drought conditions across the western United States have improved significantly as a result of a very wet winter” Jay Famiglietti is a hydrologist at Arizona State UniversityHe told USA TODAY.

In fact, both California and Nevada are currently “essentially drought-free,” which is “really unusual,” he said.

Elsewhere, the Colorado River Basin's giant reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell, are now about one-third full. Brad Udall is a senior scientist at Colorado State University. That's up from 25% full at the same time last year, but still a long way from the historic peak of 95% full in the early 2000s.

But a wetter winter isn't a panacea for the long-term Western water crisis, which “is here to stay,” Udal said. “I like to say it's a collision of 19th-century water law, 20th-century infrastructure, and 21st-century population growth and climate change.”

A promising drought forecast for California

The drought forecast looks promising for California: “The combination of abundant rain and snow from the winter of 2022-2023, the state of reservoirs and what happened this winter gives us high confidence that California will be drought-free by 2025,” said Ken Clarke, Acuweather California meteorologist. Report.

That's good news for both short-term drought concerns and the long-term battle against widespread drought, AccuWeather said. “The years have taken their toll on the state's water table, so back-to-back winters with blockbuster storms have filled reservoirs and alleviated parched landscapes,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Brian Lauda.

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Lakes Mead and Powell are at 'dangerously low levels'

“Although both reservoirs have experienced wet winters over the past few years, they are both at dangerously low levels after two decades of megatrout,” Famiglietti said.

Two reservoirs fed by the mighty Colorado River provide water that 40 million Americans depend on.

Specifically, the current wet winter has seen Lake Mead rise more than 3.5 feet from its summer peak. However, Lake Powell actually dropped about 23 feet from the summer of 2023, a result of the wet winter of 2022-23.

Plus, a couple of wet winters won't solve a long-term problem: The Colorado River is in crisis because of decades of drought in the West, exacerbated by climate change, rising demand and overuse. The river serves Mexico and two dozen American tribes, generates hydroelectricity and supplies water to farms that grow most of the country's winter vegetables.

What about California's current snowfall and reservoir levels? Will the recent storms help?

A recent blizzard across California significantly raised its snowfall amounts, Famiglitti said. “Snowpack levels across the state are now 'normal' for this time of year, and all of the state's major reservoirs are above their historical averages for the year,” he said. “These higher reservoir levels will reduce pressure on the state's chronically overtaxed groundwater reserves.”

Tuesday, NOAA at X “Great improvement in Sierra Nevada snowpack since January 1st…thanks to several atmospheric rivers and record winter storm events this past weekend.”

A ReportCarla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said last week, “We are now in the last month of the traditional snow season, and while conditions have improved dramatically since the beginning of the year, March is critical in determining whether we end up above. Below average.”

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What is the current overall drought situation in the West?

When it comes to drought, Udal said the West is “pretty good right now.” In particular, according to a recent report, only about 25% of the western United States is currently in drought conditions US Drought MonitorThis is down 51% from this time last year.

What does all this mean for the wildfire season in California and the West in general?

The extra rain so far this winter bodes well for reducing fire intensity later this year, especially in California, Famiglitti said.

However, Arizona and New Mexico will not benefit from the extra rain as much as much of the western United States, and the risk of wildfires will be higher, he said.

Additionally, Udall told USA TODAY that the next six weeks are particularly critical for fire season in the West. If it is wet and cool, it will help reduce the intensity of the fire season. If it suddenly becomes hot and dry, it can dry out the fuels that can create wildfires, he said.

Contributed by: Associated Press

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