Water levels in the Great Salt Lake, in the northern part of the US state of Utah, have reached historic lows as a drought strikes the region.
Average daily water levels have fallen about an inch below the previous record of 4,191.4 feet (1,278 m) – set in 1963.
Candice Hasenyager, Deputy Director of Utah’s Water Resources Division said the new record comes months earlier than when the lake typically hits its lowest level of the year.
This indicates that water levels could continue to drop even more.
Great Salt Lake is the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere and, on average, it covers around 1,700 square miles (4,400 km) – but this fluctuates due to the lake’s shallow depth.
Although it has been called the Dead Sea of the United States, the lake is home to millions of native birds, brine shrimp, shorebirds and waterfowl – and the receding waters are already affecting a place of nesting for pelicans.
Some boats have also been hoisted out of the water to prevent them from getting stuck in the mud.
Exposure of dry lake beds could send arsenic-containing dust into the air millions of people breathe.
For years people have diverted water from the rivers that flow into the lake to water crops and supply homes.
Since the lake is shallow – around 35 feet (11 m) at its deepest point – less water quickly led to shorelines receding.
Grand Lac Salé typically gains up to 2 feet (0.5 m) per year from spring runoff, but this year it was only six inches (15 cm).
Drought has a wider environmental impact – drying up lakes in the western United States and exacerbating massive wildfires in California and Oregon.
The blistering temperatures of the past few weeks, which topped 50 ° C (122 ° F) in the desert resort town of Palm Springs, California, have also put the country’s fragile power grid under intense pressure as people increase the air conditioning in order to counter the scorching heat.
Utah Republican Gov. Spencer Cox pleaded with people to cut back on watering lawns and “pray for the rain.”
In related news, a sandstorm over the weekend caused a massive pile-up of 22 vehicles on a Utah highway that left eight people dead, including children.
Sunday afternoon’s tragic accident near the town of Kanosh came at the end of a state holiday weekend that often results in increased traffic, and occurred during a period of high winds that caused a dust or sandstorm that reduced visibility, Utah Highway Patrol mentioned.
At least 10 people have been taken to hospital and three are in critical condition.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of baby salmon are dying in the Klamath River in northern California, as drought-induced low water levels allow a parasite to thrive, devastating a Native American tribe whose diet food and traditions are linked to fish.
And wildlife officials have said the Sacramento River, California’s largest river, faces an “almost complete loss” of young chinook salmon due to unusually warm water.
These extreme conditions are usually due to a combination of unusual, short-term and natural weather conditions, accentuated by long-term human-caused climate change.
Scientists have long warned that the weather will become more extreme as the earth continues to warm, and climate change has made the West much hotter and drier over the past 30 years.