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EDITORIAL: Drought conditions ease considerably in the West

Nevadans have been inundated for years with sobering news on the water front. But recent months have brought consistently encouraging developments.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that two wet years have replenished reservoirs across the West. After hitting a record low, Lake Mead has rebounded by 30 feet. Lake Powell is up 40 feet. “The mountain snowpack that feeds the Colorado River … is 107 percent of average this winter after hitting 153 percent in 2023, marking the wettest two-year period in more than a decade,” the paper observed.

Just 15 months ago, researchers at Brigham Young University warned that the Great Salt Lake was on the verge of disappearing. Thanks to copious rain, the lake has since grown by 150 square miles, and overall water levels are up 6 feet.

In California, the state’s largest reservoirs — Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville — are at 118 percent and 122 percent, respectively. The website phys.org reported last month that only two of California’s reservoirs are below average. Overall, the state’s reservoir levels sit at 116 percent.

Nevada has seen similar improvement. A May report from the National Resource Conservation Service revealed that Lake Tahoe is expected to be completely filled this year for the first time since 2019. “Once full the stored water in Lake Tahoe typically provides sufficient supply to meet demand for three years even if snowpacks are below normal,” the report notes.

As of May 2, just a small portion of eastern Clark County remains in “moderate drought” status. The rest of Nevada is drought free. Likewise, California is almost entirely drought free. Nevada’s reservoirs, with the exception of Lake Mead, have all made exceptional progress in the past year, with most exceeding 90 percent capacity.

None of this is to say that Western states don’t need to continue aggressive conservation measures while working to compromise on a Colorado River plan that strikes a better balance between agricultural and urban water use. Warmer temperatures predicted for coming years remain a challenge to managing this precious resource.

“We don’t know at all,” Bruce Babcock of the University of California, Riverside told the Journal about the recent wet trend, “whether this will be a 20-year reprieve or a two-year reprieve.”

He’s right, but it is a reprieve nonetheless. One that has defied predictions. In June 2022, one water expert told The Washington Post that, when it came to the Western drought, “There’s no good news for the foreseeable future.” Within months Mother Nature had unleashed a torrent of wet weather that eased conditions. And whether or not that continues, it’s still better than the alternative.

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