Lack of snowpack leaves the West hung out to dry

The lack of snow across the West this winter points to a parched summer ahead.

In California, Colorado, and across the Southwest, the snowfall has ranked among the lowest on record. The last four months have also been among the warmest throughout most of the region. Parts of eight states are already under “extreme” drought conditions.

Snowy, chilly winters are critical when it comes to recharging the West’s mountain snowpack, the source of water for rivers and reservoirs during the increasingly long and hot summer days. Less snow in the mountains, in other words, means less water for everybody living below.

Some 40 million people in seven states depend on water from the Colorado River, and at this point, spring storms across the river’s wide drainage area would need to produce snow at more than 300 percent of the typical rate just to get back to normal for the season.

In the river’s main storage spot, Lake Mead just south of Las Vegas, Nevada, water levels are on track to fall so low that they would trigger the first-ever official shortfall late next year, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Water rationing would be the next step.

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