Shrunk reservoirs. Depleted aquifers. Low rivers. Raging wildfires. It’s no secret that the Western U.S. is in a severe drought. New research published Monday shows just how extreme the situation has become.
The Western U.S. and northern Mexico are experiencing their driest period in at least 1,200 years, according to the new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The last comparable — though not as severe — multidecade megadrought occurred in the 1500s, when the West was still largely inhabited by Native American tribes.
Today, the region is home to tens of millions of people, massive agricultural centers and some of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. — all in an area where there’s less water available than there was in the past, partially due to human-caused climate change.
“We have a society that’s relying on there being the amount of water there was in the 1900s,” said the study’s lead author, Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “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.”