Climate change is causing water and power shortages in the American West, according to the UN Environment Agency

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Climate change is causing water and power shortages

Source: AUN News

Lake Mead and Lake Powell are currently at their lowest levels ever and are at risk of reaching “dead pool status,” meaning that the water in the dams would be so low it could no longer flow downstream and power hydroelectric power stations.

‘A new, very dry normal’

“The conditions in the American west, which we’re seeing around the Colorado River basin, have been so dry for more than 20 years that we’re no longer speaking of a drought,” said Lis Mullin Bernhardt, an ecosystems expert at UNEP. “We refer to it as ‘aridification’ – a new, very dry normal.”

Lake Mead, located in Nevada and Arizona, was created in the 1930s by the construction of the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. It is the largest artificial body of water in the US.

Lake Powell, located in Utah and Arizona, is the second largest and was created in the 1960s with the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam.

The reservoirs provide water and electricity to tens of millions of people in the states of Nevada, Arizona, California, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Mexico, as well as irrigation water for agriculture.

Climate impacts increasing

Experts warn that as the crisis deepens, water cuts will need to be introduced, but they may not be enough.

“While regulating and managing water supply and demand are essential in both the short and long term, climate change is at the heart of this issue,” said Maria Morgado, UNEP’s Ecosystems Officer in North America. “In the long term, we must address the root causes of climate change and water demands.”

Over the past two decades, the most significant disasters – 90 percent – were caused by floods, droughts, and other water-related events.

With more frequent droughts, people in affected areas will increasingly depend on groundwater.

Meanwhile, increases in water demand – due to growing populations, for example – have compounded climate change impacts such as reduction in precipitation and temperature rises, which lead to increased evaporation of surface water and, ultimately, decreasing soil moisture.

“We are talking about 20 years of drought-like conditions with an ever-increasing demand for water,” said Ms. Bernhardt. “These conditions are alarming, and particularly in the Lake Powell and Lake Mead region, it is the perfect storm.”

A wider issue

What’s happening in the American west is part of a broader trend affecting hundreds of millions worldwide who are impacted by climate change, UNEP said, as drought and desertification are quickly becoming the new normal everywhere – from the US to Europe and Africa.

Since 1970, weather, climate, and water hazards have accounted for 50 percent of all disasters and impact 55 million people yearly. Furthermore, some 2.3 billion people globally face water stress annually.

This information is included in a compendium titled Drought in Numbers, published in May by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which works to reverse land degradation.

Drought is among several factors that impact land degradation. Between 20 to 40 percent of the world’s land is degraded, affecting half the global population and impacting croplands, drylands, wetlands, forests, and grasslands.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which aims to stop biodiversity loss and combat climate change, includes UNEP as one of its significant organizations.

The Decade lasts until 2030, which coincides with the deadline for completing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network

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