U.S. megadrought worsens with no signs of letting up

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Eleanor Hildebrandt | February 25, 2022

The megadrought in the southwestern U.S. is the worst the country has seen in at least 1,200 years.

A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found the past two decades in the American Southwest have been the driest in well over a millennium. The researchers believe global warming has worsened the drought’s severity. One of the study’s authors and climate scientist at Columbia University Jason Smerdon said human-made climate change makes the drought more extreme because it causes a “thirstier” atmosphere that is able to pull more moisture from trees, vegetation, and soil. Smerdon called the development “a slow-motion train wreck.”

Temperatures in the Southwest in the 21st century have been almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average temperature from 1950 to 1999. The researchers used tree rings to estimate soil moisture conditions of past climates to compare to today’s.

Researchers found several significant megadroughts have occurred in the southwestern U.S. in the past 1,200 years. Some of the droughts have lasted up to 30 years. The team believes the area has not experience such dry conditions since the late 1500s, and not with such consistency since 800 A.D.

The race is on to save the Great Salt Lake. Will it be enough?

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Simone Garza | February 7, 2022

Utah’s well-known reservoir, The Great Salt Lake, has been shrinking at startling low levels. 

The lake levels are currently low because of a regional megadrought in the area from climate change. It has caused water to draw away from the lake, which is beneficial for Utah in providing homes and crops. The Great Salt Lake has been continuously shrinking since the first record made in 1847.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox is currently proposing $46 million to help find solutions for the issue in the state’s water infrastructure budget. Concerns are appearing as possible ideas may not begin quickly to slow down the environmental issue. One idea from Gov. Cox and House Speaker Brad Wilson, is to halt water usage in businesses and homes by measuring inexpensive outside water. Another idea would involve paying farmers disturbing their water downstream. A final proposal is to have direct the profits from mineral-extraction royalties to assisting the lake. 

The Great Salt Lake imposes danger to migrating birds and the lake focused economy in the area. The vastly dried lakebed may also transfer arsenic-laced dust into the air, causing people to inhale toxins. It may also affect snowfall in the mountains near The Great Salt Lake, causing the snow to melt rapidly, as water may soak up the soil rather than entering the lake. In July 2021, a report on the lake showed, a total of 4191.3 feet (1277.5 meters) above sea level. If water levels continue to decrease, the water will become overly salty. This will make it challenging for edible microbes to live. Edible microbes are biomasses obtained from bacteria, yeasts, or filamentous fungi as a replacement to standard sources of food and nourishment.
Within the last 10 years, the state population has increased over 18.4 percent. An average of 200,000 homes and businesses pay a flat fee for a season of irrigation water. The term is called a secondary water system created by converting the agriculture supply in suburban communities. These account for the excessive use of the state’s water that is mainly in the lake’s watershed.