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Monday, May 20, 2013

"Hell to pay" in Kansas and the plains states


The New York Times ran an important article today (one more), this time on the Great Plains overall but Kansas, in specific, and how our water aquifers below ground are running dry:


Wells DryFertile Plains Turn to Dust


Just a bit from the article:

HASKELL COUNTY, Kan. — Forty-nine years ago, Ashley Yost’s grandfather sank a well deep into a half-mile square of rich Kansas farmland. He struck an artery of water so prodigious that he could pump 1,600 gallons to the surface every minute.

Last year, Mr. Yost was coaxing just 300 gallons from the earth, and pumping up sand in order to do it. By harvest time, the grit had robbed him of $20,000 worth of pumps and any hope of returning to the bumper harvests of years past.

“That’s prime land,” he said not long ago, gesturing from his pickup at the stubby remains of last year’s crop. “I’ve raised 294 bushels of corn an acre there before, with water and the Lord’s help.” Now, he said, “it’s over.”

...Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers.

And when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains.

This is in many ways a slow-motion crisis — decades in the making, imminent for some, years or decades away for others, hitting one farm but leaving an adjacent one untouched. But across the rolling plains and tarmac-flat farmland near the Kansas-Colorado border, the effects of depletion are evident everywhere. Highway bridges span arid stream beds. Most of the creeks and rivers that once veined the land have dried up as 60 years of pumping have pulled groundwater levels down by scores and even hundreds of feet.
On some farms, big center-pivot irrigators — the spindly rigs that create the emerald circles of cropland familiar to anyone flying over the region — now are watering only a half-circle. On others, they sit idle altogether.
Two years of extreme drought, during which farmers relied almost completely on groundwater, have brought the seriousness of the problem home. In 2011 and 2012the Kansas Geological Survey reports, the average water level in the state’s portion of the aquifer dropped 4.25 feet — nearly a third of the total decline since 1996.
And that is merely the average. “I know my staff went out and re-measured a couple of wells because they couldn’t believe it,” said Lane Letourneau, a manager at the State Agriculture Department’s water resources division. “There was a 30-foot decline.”
And as it says above, we see this coming and we've seen it coming. There have been warnings. We can't go on like this forever. It isn't, it wasn't sustainable. We can't just take and take and take.
Something's got to change.
What has struck me most about our current situation, both about drought and the 2008 financial crisis, the worst in 80 years, since the Great Depression, is that it is, in those two ways--the financial crisis and drought--so very much like those years, the 30's. That is, people hurt by both the financial crisis and the drought.
In the case of the Depression, it was all man-made.
Turns out, really, it could be argued this one is, too.

As if that isn't enough, Robert Reich, writing from Europe today, posts the following on Facebook:

At a time when you'd expect nations to band together to gain bargaining power against global capital, the opposite is occurring: Xenophobia is breaking out all over. 

Here in Britain, the UK Independence Party -- which wants to get out of the European Union -- is rapidly gaining ground, becoming the third most popular party in the country, according to a new poll for The Independent on Sunday. Almost one in five people plan to vote for it in the next general election. Ukip's overall ratings have risen four points to 19 per cent in the past month, despite Prime Minister David Cameron's efforts to wrest back control of the crucial debate over Britain's relationship with the European Union. 


Right-wing nationalist parties are gaining ground elsewhere in Europe as well. In the U.S., not only are Republicans sounding more nationalistic of late (anti-immigrant, anti-trade), but they continue to push "states rights" -- as states increasingly battle against one another to give global companies ever larger tax breaks and subsidies. 


WWIII, anybody?

One last thing from Facebook today that wraps this all up:



Anyone care yet?

Additional link: 

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