When winter comes knocking, bringing with it blankets of snow, sleet, and rain, it’s tough to imagine that—come summer—the landscape will dry itself out and, in some places, the parched thirsty soil will cry out for just one drop of water that seemed so plentiful just a few months earlier. But the truth is, drought and water resource management should always be on our minds, particularly during the seasons when we can harness the abundance for future needs.
Right now, many parts of the country are under a severe storm watch, with blizzards and ice storms a distinct possibility. In some areas, it’s the largest snowfall in over five years, and even major sports arenas are falling victim (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn2p1DpLFSw). Even Florida residents have been waking up to thick layers of ice on their windshields, while in California an unseasonably hot weekend is giving way to days and days of rain.
With all that water, drought seems unimaginable. But we all know that this summer—as temperatures rise and reservoirs dwindle—water shortages will become the norm. For residents of the Southwest, scorched earth and barren landscapes could be the proverbial canary in a coalmine, according to research published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (www.edhat.com/site/tidbit.cfm?nid=44709)
By studying tree rings to construct a timeline of drought conditions over a 1,200-year period, the study’s authors determined that the 60-year drought that plagued the Southwest during the 12th century could help predict future conditions for the region. The striking similarities between the two eras—including higher-than-normal temperatures (1 degree on average)—suggest that the drought that occurred from 900 to 1300 AD could be ready to repeat itself. While there are no guarantees, these informed guesses will hopefully provide a framework for future-focused water resource planning in the region.
So what do you think? Should we plan our future based on the past? Does it make sense to include climate change amongst our mitigating factors like population growth and crumbling infrastructure? And does the reason for the shortage matter as much as the outcome?