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Environment

These images from space show how much the reservoirs and lakes of the West have dried up

Satellite views four years apart from a chronicler of the world's largest lakes show the startling effects of the Western mega-drought.

  • Credibility:

Slide right, and create a new island. Slide left, and go back to a recent time when the West had enough water to actually fill its lakes.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

A self-described lakes geek currently living in the European Union likes to teach people about their wild surroundings by creating before-and-after views of the world’s great bodies of water, using satellite photos taken years apart. Catalin Trif and his lakepedia.com site compile a wealth of information about big lakes, and he reached out to The Colorado Sun after a seemingly unending series of Western drought stories caught his eye.

Trif’s picture comparisons allow you to slide right and see how the 22nd year of “megadrought” in the West is draining reservoirs and revealing ancient land formations not seen for decades. Slide left on the pictures below and restore your favorite Lake Powell boating bay or Blue Mesa picnic shore.

The pictures overlay satellite photos taken this August with photos from August four years ago, Trif said.

With that introduction, we’ll let relentless aridity speak for itself.


Lake Powell

The first of the two major storage buckets on the Colorado River that serves 40 million people in seven states — plus Mexico! Not to mention a favorite boating, hiking and partying destination for Coloradans.


Blue Mesa Reservoir

This summer the federal government announced it would drain extra water out of Blue Mesa, Flaming Gorge and other massive reservoirs in order to keep the pools at Lake Powell and Lake Mead high enough to generate hydropower. Expect more dry sand in future satellite photos.


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Taylor Park Reservoir

We don’t hear much about Taylor Park other than for fishing, but there’s no escaping low water after decades of Colorado drought.


Vallecito Reservoir

Tucked away in the southwestern corner of the state, Vallecito has been heard from most often in recent years for the wildfires surrounding it. Another place where lower water catches the eye of the satellites.


Lake Granby

As a key point of control on the Colorado River Basin system, Lake Granby fluctuates for any number of water supply and demand reasons.


Green Mountain Reservoir

Looks like some massive beaches appeared in recent years at Green Mountain, north of Silverthorne and Dillon. From here, the dammed Blue River continues on to the Colorado.


Ruedi Reservoir

High above the Roaring Fork Valley, Ruedi is also threatened frequently by wildfires, but also comes through with extra clean water to pour down the Colorado when fish stocks are threatened by low flows.


San Carlos Lake

San Carlos Lake, one of the bigger lakes in Arizona and part of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, often fluctuates widely as an irrigation anchor for the region. Sometimes it takes a good satellite comparison to show just how wild those fluctuations are in drought years.


Lake Mead

The impacts of drought are not quite so visible from overhead of this massive canyon-stuffing pool, but watch this space. What happens to Lake Mead in coming years will drive a lot of news in the West.


Bartlett Lake

As a popular recreation pool near Phoenix, Bartlett Lake is showing a lot more recreational beach these days and a lot less actual boating water.



We believe vital information needs to be seen by the people impacted, whether it’s a public health crisis, investigative reporting or keeping lawmakers accountable. This reporting depends on support from readers like you.