Islands Appearing in the Southwest—Ominously
Lake Powell and Lake Mead are in rough shape
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 18, 2015 1:54 PM CDT
Updated May 23, 2015 7:00 AM CDT
This June 21, 2013 photo shows Lake Powell.   (AP Photo/Deseret News, Jeffrey D. Allred)

(Newser) – New islands are being born along the border of Arizona and Utah. That's an ominous thing, reports the Guardian in a look at Lake Powell, the country's second-biggest reservoir. Due to dwindling snow falls in the Rockies—which has spurred a crisis for the Colorado River, which feeds the lake—today it stands at just 45% capacity. That's brought new islands to the surface and turned established ones into "towering sandstone pillars," Chris McGreal writes. As one aquatic biologist puts it, "There's still a lot of water out there, but ... people hit rock islands all the time." Those people, some of the 3 million boaters and other tourists who come to Lake Powell each year, are hardly the only ones affected. That's because in addition to acting as a reservoir for four states, it sends additional water south to Lake Mead.

That's America's largest reservoir—and one that factors into a new New Yorker piece. David Owen writes of being at the Lake Mead Marina with two men who "were concerned about what [one of them] called 'apocalyptic reporting,' and they wanted to be sure I understood that the lake is still gigantic. That's certainly true, but if you know Lake Mead you can't help noticing that most of it is missing: the surface of the lake is about 130 feet lower than it was in 1998." McGreal puts it in starker terms: The April levels at Lake Mead were the lowest "since 1937 when it was still being filled." Drought is to blame, with one expert telling him the "15-year drought that we’re in is the worst drought in the last 100 years"—and noting the area has, in the last 1,000 years, suffered a drought that lasted six decades. For much more, check out the Guardian or the New Yorker. (Meanwhile, the West's dry spell has brought about "drought shaming.")