For all of you hoping for some light at the end of the tunnel, I have some bad news: We’re not out of the woods yet. Not even close. And with months of dry weather and hot temperatures still to come for many of us, the situation is about to get a whole lot worse.
I’m speaking, of course, about drought conditions throughout the US. Last week, ongoing drought conditions compelled Agriculture Secretary Tom Vislack to declare another 39 counties as disaster areas. According to Vislack, the expansion of the Obama administration’s drought-disaster declaration is an attempt to mitigate “the most serious situation we’ve had probably in 25 years across the country.”
Currently, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated 1,297 counties in 29 states across the country disaster areas as a result of ongoing drought. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural interests located in those disaster areas are eligible for Farm Service Emergency Loans with interest rates between 2.25 and 3.75%. Additionally, the USDA under the Conservation Reserve program has reduced payment reductions for emergency haying and grazing in these disaster areas from 25 to 10%.
The effects of this expansive and ongoing drought are far-reaching, and are expected to impact everything from food prices to fuel costs as corn and soybean prices rise and ranchers scramble to protect livestock. Very few parts of the country have been left unscathed. Currently, more than 70% of the Midwest is in some stage of drought conditions—that’s up 63% since the beginning of the month, according to Reuters. In the High Plains, 68% of the region is experiencing drought conditions (up 56% from earlier in the month). In fact, according to the Drought Monitor, 61% of the continental US is currently experiencing “moderate to exceptional drought.”
The Weather Channel reports that our current drought conditions rival the 1930s Dust Bowl, in terms of both peak percentage of areas in drought severity and duration. Pointing to a June report released by the National Climatic Data Center titled State of the Climate, The Weather Channel concludes, “In short, the overall 2012 drought now covers more territory than any drought since the 1950s.”
So what do you think? As I scanned article after article online in preparation for today’s blog, I noticed that while there was plenty of talk about climate change, weather models, and government aid aimed at helping farmers and ranchers survive, there was almost no discussion of the role water efficiency must play in order for us to adequately weather this current drought crisis. Does this seem like a severe lapse in judgment, or an indication of the continued polarization of water resource management? Does it make sense to keep agriculture—and agricultural irrigation—in one silo and the commercial, industrial, and residential water use sequestered in a separate bubble? And how can we endeavor to harmonize our water resource management efforts so that they more adequately reflect the true nature of the water cycle?
Vislack spoke to reporters last week about the USDA’s efforts to combat drought.