DROUGHT of 2011. One of the worst in history.
A recent over flight of the 700 square mile Arizona forest fire, provided striking views of the massive fire. Everything "white" in this photo is "burn" area, fire and smoke. The smoke cloud above it is so massive that it creates it’s own lightening. Lightning, without any rain. In south Central Texas, ranchers there speak of the “Dry Thunder” that has no rain clouds, just fire and noise.
High winds across California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, have brought no rain in months. In the Panhandle of West Texas, O’Donnell farmer Dewie Middleton said: “I dug down 3 to 4 feet and never found a moisture line. It is the dryer than we have see in 30 years.”
1895, 1918, and 1956. Even the droughts that brought on the "Dust Bowl" of the 1920's were not as bad, as the "drought of 2011". For some farmers in West Texas, it has not rained since October of 2010 (9 months, and running). This drought may become worse than any of the three. The USDA's "Drought Monitor" quoted Texas Climatologist John Nielson-Gammon as saying:
"94 % of Texas is in a state of severe drought. As of June 7th, 2011, the period from October-May was the driest since records have been kept in 1895."
Maggie Romigh, a civic leader in Las Vegas, NM reports "Radio stations report this as the driest periodin New Mexico since records have been kept."
I interviewed a rancher in Garza County, (Post), Texas who said that he had lost 10,000 acres to wild fires, had to replace 9 sections (640 acres each) of fence that burned, and is selling off his herd of cattle because there is no grass or water to feed them. Cattle prices are high now, but as cattle are liquidated, and ranchers wait a year or two to allow their pastures to repair, and buy young cattle to rebuilt, we may see broad fluxuations in cattle prices, but all in the long run, trending up. Essentially, ranchers consider 2011 a disaster for ranching.
The national farm report (radio agriculture) said 2 days ago: "Dry soils heat up quicker. So drought feeds on and builds itself. Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, are in worse shape than they were in the 'dust bowl'." As almost to verify this the USDA just lowered its projection of corn and cotton production. USDA said: "We are lowering expectations of corn by 1.5 million bushes. Cotton production is also declining." No doubt it is declining because it is so dry, that milliions of acres sit as dry dust, and will not allow a seed to germinate. Dry land farms say it is a 90% loss. 79% of the winter wheat crop is gone. 72% of oats and 36% of corn is classified as "poor or very poor", says the USDA.
The Pendaries Resort, golf course at 8,000 feet, in Northern New Mexico normally is verdant green, “This year, it is dry. We water it, and in a matter of hours the hot dry winds suck the moisture out. Some of our fairways are turning to dust and browning.” For resort communities that depend upon tourist and 'golf' course income, the drought is a financial and community loss. "We now water our greens, but the fairways, will not stay green. Our challenge now is to simply keep the grass alive." said one Pendaries member.
A New Mexico golf course northwest of Tucumcari, called "Conchas Lake" is a brown dust, except the greens. “Our golf course has turned to dust.” Said one resident. "It isn't much fun playing golf on dry dust" said one visitor who came to New Mexico for summer vacation. This doesn't include the lake recreational area, because withlakes down, boating and fishing are also impacted.
One town in West Texas announced that they were asking residents to drink beer and save water. Bob Collier, whose grandfather was among the first businessess to settle in Post, Texas, said: "We need to find an Indian to do a rain dance for Post."
Town after town have declared "no fire, no fireworks".
Rivers are dry. Ponds are dry. Somber and worried farmers look at the sky, and quietly shake their heads at a burned out blue sky, with no clouds. In the photo above, the only clouds are not rain clouds, that is smoke coming from the wild fires in far off Arizona. Ranchers slowly sell off and reduce their herds, because the grass is not growing and the pastures slowly denude to dust. “I have cows walking 2 miles to get a drink, and in another month, they will be walking further.” one rancher said. Ranchers know the economics. No rain, no grass, then they have to start buying feed, and trucking in water. “We did this in the ‘50’s and half of the ranches of the west went belly up”. Said Cal Edwards, Texas rancher.
While doing this report, dust devils danced across the great plains and the high grasslands from Arizona to Texas. Cars swerved and stopped June 9th, as dust devils 200 feet high and 75 feet across followed the rail road line, right through the middle of town. As the dust cleared the sign that read “Come Back to Farwell” became readable again.
“Texas in 2011 has had more grass and forest fires than at any time in recorded history” said Global Perspectives.
Towns such as Las Vegas, New Mexico have said that in 50 days, they will have no water left. Portions of the community are already dry and some people cannot wash their clothes because their home wells are dry. They have to take their dirty laundry to coin machines in town, to wash their family clothes.The Mayor of Las Vegas has said that the city may have to truck tank water into town, if rain does not come soon and replenish their water supply. But at the present time, local streams are flowing at 18% of normal.
Ben Boothe, Sr., (http://www.environment-solutions.com), offered the city an alternative solution. “We have the engineering and technology to drill wells to tap the saline, sulfured and brackish water aquifers and desalinate this water. Then we could use the traditional surface water sources as a back up.” Research indicates that desalination programs like Boothe is suggesting is now being used by 18,000 communities globally with great success. But city leaders of Las Vegas, have been hesitant to move forward with substantial solutions for their lagging water systems.
"Many cities, lack vision, courage, and the will to move forward" said a member of the Las Vegas water committee, who asked to remain anonomous. "I fear that the lack of leadership in towns such as Las Vegas could hurt our town and condemn our future. Even our water group seems unwilling to move forward", he said.
The challenge, to solve water systems with new technology, is one of fighting old traditional ways of doing things. But as the drought crisis continues, there is pressure for change and for action. Ben Boothe, who has promoted desalination for years, throughout the Southwest said: "Many small towns seem happy to stay with their old formula that has allowed them to slowly dry up , they want to stay with traditional sources, even though those sources seem to have depleted with the drought and climate change. If they get rain, it is a temperary fix, but next year the problem will repeat, and be worse". Boothe has targeted some 600 towns in the USA with water shortage issues. "Many are looking at inadequate solutions such as rebuilding their dams, (dams that they cannot fill up with water now,) or fixing their leaking fire hydrants, rather than moving forward with new concepts, proven successful, such as new desalination systems."
Other cities, such as Laredo, Texas rely on water from reservoirs and unground aquifers. "Unless it rains soon, we are in trouble" said Sonny Hinojosa, general manager of Hidalgo Irrigation District #2, in San Juan, Texas.
Like Las Vegas, New Mexico, the city of San Antonio had declaired a water emergency, and is now called for 30% reductions in water use.
Lubbock, Amarillo, Clovis, Raton, Wichita Falls, Fort Worth, all have asked for water conservation and some restrict watering yards, washing cars, or water usage.
Pauletta Daniels, is of a pioneer family that settled and “tamed” west Texas for agriculture. Just short of 90 (She insists that she is only 86, but we count 87) her grandfather came to the Lubbock, Lamesa area on horseback, created ranches, and then converted those ranches into the nation’s most productive cotton lands. “In my 87 years, I have not seen a drought this severe. We had droughts in the 1920’s , went through the dust bowl, and in the 1950’s it was bad. But we haven’t had a good rain in the high plains of Texas in 9 months. Our seed will not germinate in dry soil. This impacts the price of food, fiber and also is putting farmers out of business. The end result is a loss of the agricultural community, just when food, fiber and grains are at historic high levels. It means global increases in food prices and a huge loss to the United States agricultural community.
Traditionally, winter snows in Northern New Mexico, come in December, January, and February, creating a snow bank of moisture that gradually releases as it melts. The snows did not come in the winter of 2010-2011. Indeed weather patterns have shown impacts of climate change for the past 10 years, with gradual hotter seasons, less rain and less snow. Then traditionally there are bands of Thunderstorms in Texas during April, May, June and July. Thus far they have not come. Historically, the rainy season, of Northern New Mexico comes in June, sometimes as late as July. "When it rains on July 4th, we are happy!" said a local resident. So far everyone is looking at the skies, preachers are leading their congregations in prayer for rain, butso far, not a drop has come.
The forests are so dry that a walk through normally verdant forests kicks up clouds of dust. The huge fires in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas actually heat up and dry the atmosphere even more.
Everyone is waiting, hoping, praying for the rains to come. Members of the First Presbyterian Church, were led in a "PRAYER FOR MONSOONS" last Sunday. The sun answered with clear hot weather.
New horizontal gas drilling has become a major new source of drilling activity throughout the United States. But these companies rely upon millions of gallons of water per well. Each "fracking" operation uses over a million gallons of water, and a typical gas well will "frack" it's well 5 to 12 times, to increase gas production. Some farmers are demanding that the water not be sold to oil companies. "I have to have water for my farm" says Bruce Frasier, one of the largest cantaloupe farmers in Texas. In Fort Worth, Texas, the city sells millions of gallons of water from it's lake resevoirs, to gas companies. outgoing Mayor Mike Moncreif has tried to balance the damands of gas companies, with the water issues. "We have been concerned because our lakes are down anyway, and the water used for fracking picks up toxic chemicals and elements such as Benzien, Xylene. So not only is our public water at lower levels, we are concerned that the water as used by gas companies may migrate or pollute other waters." said Linda Foley, teacher in Fort Worth.
Many oil and gas companies are finding it harder to find water for fracking, and are finding more heated competetion for water from farming, industrial and consumer interests.
"There is just so much water. We have a finite amount of water. Now if we have a big jug with 10 gallons of water, and the gas companies want 4 gallons for fracking, the golf courses and parks want 3 gallons for watering their grass, industry wants2 gallons for manufacturing, and the public needs 6 gallons for drinking, cooking, and washing. There is demandfor 15 gallonsof water, and only 10 gallons available, and as the drought goes on the jug holds less and less. Who has priority?" asks Ben Boothe of (http://www.environment-solutions.com)
A recent book speaks of Water Wars and suggests that more conflict and war will be over diminishing water supplies, than over any other issue. The United Nations has issued reports citing increased conflict and changed attitude on water issues. The drought in the Southwestern United states is only a micro-example of the water issues that exists in the USA, Latin America, Middle East, China, India, and parts of southern Europe.
We will see the cities that do well and survive, will be cities and areas that properly address and find new sources of water. "Desalination is the best alternative available, and power these plants with wind power and solar power, and you have a long term, inexpensive source of water for a new century", says Ben Boothe.