Oklahoma’s current drought is in it’s third year. With the severity and the length of the drought many are wondering if we could enter into another Dust Bowl. We have forgotten many of the lessons we learned during the last Dust Bowl and we are over farming again and also farming things in areas that aren’t really suited for those crops.
Much of what was at play before the Dust Bowl is at play again today. Crop prices are soaring and crop subsidies are also encouraging farmers to take too many risks with their land and water.
Modern irrigation has us feeling a bit like we can control nature. But much of the water used for irrigation comes from the Ogallala aquifer and the water levels in the aquifer are getting low and if it did run dry scientists say that it could take 6,000 years to refill. The Ogallala is also a big source of drinking water for the United States so this is a problem that is much better than just agriculture.
“[I]n less than 100 years we are seriously depleting what took Nature more than 10,000 years to fill,” said USGS director Marcia McNutt.
The signs are already starting, back in October 2012 there was a dust storm across Kansas and part of Oklahoma that could be seen from space. The dust storm caused many roads to have to be shut down. The dust seems to have come from southern Nebraska but Kansas and Oklahoma likely contributed.
There are also things that work in our favor. While we are over farming a lot of land again, farming practices are still improved. We have more erosion-control practices and we have drought-resistant crop hybrids. We also have a better understanding of tractors and better plowing methods.
There are so many factors at play it’s hard to say if a new Dust Bowl is in our future but there is one thing we know for sure, we are running out of water and we don’t really have a back up plan. We must act now if we want to have water security in the future and we don’t want to have another Dust Bowl.
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Photo Credit: NOAA George E. Marsh Album