Before-and-after satellite photos show just how terrible the drought is in the West

(NEXSTAR) – The drought conditions in the Western United States are so bad, merely stating facts sounds like hyperbole.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 98% of the West is in a drought. About 25% of the region is in the worst category: exceptional drought.

Every state in the region is feeling the consequences. California is dealing with another season of record-breaking wildfires. Washington and Montana are seeing abysmal soil conditions, according to the Drought Monitor. Plus, lake and reservoir levels around the region are at scary lows. Lake Mead near Las Vegas and the Great Salt Lake in Utah reached their lowest levels ever recorded this summer.

But if those statistics aren’t enough to shock you, they say a picture is worth a thousand words. The satellite images below show just how much some of the West’s largest bodies of water have shrunk with this year’s drought.

Great Salt Lake, Utah

Great Salt Lake in Utah, 1985 (left) vs. 2021 (right) (Credit: Google Earth)

As of July 2021, the Great Salt Lake was at its lowest level ever recorded. The new record comes months earlier than when the lake typically hits its lowest level of the year, indicating water levels could continue to drop even further, said Candice Hasenyager, the deputy director of Utah’s Division of Water Resources.

Sailboats have been hoisted out of the water to keep them from getting stuck in the mud. More dry lakebed getting exposed could send arsenic-laced dust into the air that millions breathe.

PHOTOS: Historic low water levels at Great Salt Lake

Lake Mead, Nevada and Arizona

Lake Mead on the Nevada-Arizona border, 1985 (left) vs. 2021 (right) (Credit: Google Earth)

Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, also dropped to historic lows this summer. It’s expected to continue declining until November. The reservoir east of Las Vegas delivers water to Arizona, California and Nevada and is important for agriculture.

Lake Oroville, California

Lake Oroville in California, 2011 (left) vs. 2021 (right) (Credit: Google Earth)

This reservoir outside Sacramento got so full in 2017, its dam’s spillways collapsed and the lake threatened to release an uncontrolled amount of water. Fast forward four years, and the reservoir is only a quarter full. It’s so empty, the hydroelectric power plant at the dam had to be shut off due to lack of water. It’s the first time that’s ever happened in the Oroville Dam’s 54-year history.

PHOTOS: Before and after shots show water levels plummet in Lake Oroville

Shasta Lake, California

Lake Shasta in California, 2019 (left) vs. 2021 (right) (Credit: Google Earth)

Shasta Lake, another important Northern California reservoir, was about 150 feet below its full level at last check. The Google Earth images above show a dramatic change in just two years.

Lake Powell, Arizona and Utah

Lake Powell in Arizona and Utah, 1984 (left) vs. 2021 (right) (Credit: Google Earth)

Lake Powell, which meanders its way across Arizona and Utah, is another body of water at its lowest level on record. The scant water has forced the closure of boat ramps, creating issues for local businesses that thrive on summer tourism.

The boaters, kayakers and swimmers who do make it out onto the water now have a very different view than a few years ago. The reddish-orange rock faces have been replaced by sheer white cliffs on all sides, all of which used to be underwater.

PHOTOS: Lake Powell at its lowest point ever recorded

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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