Currently — May 27th, 2022

The weather, currently.

The drought in the Western US continues to intensify, with looming implications for the millions of people who live there — and the countless connections between the region and the rest of the world.

CNN reports that Lake Mead — the largest artificial lake in the United States — has dropped to a new record low of 1049 feet above sea level this week, and is drying up more quickly than federal government forecasts predicted amid worsening drought conditions and exceptional early summer heat.

Amid the driest stretch in 1,200 years and additional pressure by climate change, long-delayed water reforms have now kicked into high gear.

Subsistence and industrial-scale farming use a whopping 80 percent of all the water in the Colorado River basin, and calls to reform the river’s allocation — especially agriculture — have sharply intensified this year. High tech water conservation often isn’t enough, because farmers have become so efficient with their water use that very little now returns back to the river from fields as runoff. It’s a crisis with only one logical end that no one wants to admit: many farmers who have become accustomed to having water for years will now have to go without.

Already, downstream cities like Tucson, Arizona and Tijuana, Mexico are preparing for the worst — mandatory urban water cuts — which could come as soon as just 16 months from now. But if farmers step up and conserve more than they’re required to do, there could be a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

What you need to know, currently.

Six idle wells in Bakersfield were found to be leaking methane last week, the Associated Press reports. Although Uduak-Joe Ntuk, head of the California Geologic Energy Management division of the California Department of Conservation, assured residents that the leaks were “minor in nature,” a report from the state showed that three wells were leaking methane at explosive levels.

Methane is a colorless, odorless gas that’s about 25 times as potent as CO2 when it comes to global warming. It’s also quite obviously a public safety hazard—even if it’s not leaking in concentrations high enough to blow up your house it can cause long-term respiratory, cardiological, and neurological issues and sometimes result in death.

A recent report in Environmental Science and Technology found that wells across New Mexico were emitting about six times as much methane as the EPA expected. Plugging all these abandoned wells isn’t easy, especially the older ones. Theoretically, oil and gas companies are obligated to plug wells when they go dry, but lax regulations and the boom and bust nature of the oil gas industry means there’s little oversight when this infrastructure is abandoned.

A report published in Environmental Research Letters last year, showed that curbing methane emissions could reduce the speed of global warming by as much as 30 percent.