A new study published today confirms the severe drought in the Western U.S. is the worst seen in at least 1,200 years – and likely much longer. In fact, the last comparable drought occurred in the United States in the 1500’s, when the area was populated by Native American tribes.
The drought, most likely triggered by global climate change, has caused wildfires, low rivers, and depleted aquifers – and it is impacting about half of the contiguous United States. The study noted:
“We have a society that’s relying on there being the amount of water there was in the 1900s. But now with the number of water molecules available to us declining, it really is time for us to get real about how much water there is for us to use.”
Scientists studied tree ring data from thousands of sites, including wood beams preserved at Native American archeological sites. This provided drought data back to A.D. 800. During that time, four other droughts were identified including a 23-year event in the 1500’s.
The drought has caused Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the country’s two largest reservoirs, to be filled to only about 1/3 of their total capacity. This has prompted the first-ever water shortage along the Colorado River, triggering water cuts to tens of millions of people. Stockpiling is already being reported throughout the West which may be further exacerbating the problem.