In this file:

 

·         Don't Ignore the Drought

The current drought is a bad one, and it's not going away

 

·         Is the drought an anomaly or new normal?

How long the drought will persist is uncertain, though many expect it to last well into 2013...

 

·         As drought persists, many scramble to save every drop of water

As the drought of 2012 creeps into 2013, experts say the slow-spreading catastrophe presents near-term problems for a key U.S. agricultural region and potential long-term challenges for millions of Americans.

 

 

Don't Ignore the Drought

The current drought is a bad one, and it's not going away

 

By Brooke Jarvis - Rollingstone

January 17, 2013 2:55 PM ET

 

Droughts, it could be argued, are the opposite of news. By definition, they represent the absence of something (namely, adequate rain) happening. And they only occur when that something has already been not-happening for a very long time. As a result, droughts tend not to make the front page. When they do – as happened last summer, when headlines trumpeted the worst U.S. drought conditions in 50 years – the public gets concerned. But soon enough, droughts begin to feel like business as usual again, invisible in their very ubiquity.

 

It's time to start paying attention.

 

Why?

 

Well, first off, the current drought – which is essentially the same one the U.S. has been experiencing since 2010, and which last year encompassed more than 65 percent of the country, more than at any time since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s – is having some eye-popping impacts that make it tough to ignore. In 2012, more than 9 million acres went up in flames in this country. Only dredging and some eleventh-hour rain kept the mighty Mississippi River from being shut down to navigation due to low water levels; continuing drought conditions make "long-term stabilization" of river levels unlikely in the near future. Several of the Great Lakes are soon expected to hit their lowest levels in history. In Nebraska last summer, a 100-mile stretch of the Platte River simply dried up. Drought led the USDA to declare federal disaster areas in 2,245 counties in 39 states last year, and the federal government will likely have to pay tens of billions for crop insurance and lost crops. As ranchers became increasingly desperate to feed their livestock, "hay rustling" and other agricultural crimes rose.

 

Still, it's easy to dismiss even the worst impacts of drought as temporary problems – once some rain falls, we get to move on. It's over. Right?

 

Sadly, no. Major droughts have effects that endure long after they've technically ended. Food production and food prices can suffer long-term disruptions. Drought-related culling and destocking has left the U.S. cattle herd at a 60-year low; beef prices hit an all-time high in November and are expected to increase. The current drought has also hit producers of staple crops from corn to wheat to hay. Furthermore, drought depletes water reserves in glaciers, aquifers and groundwater on which future growing seasons depend. Officials have reported rapidly declining water levels in the crucial, shrinking Ogalalla Aquifer, and some areas are seeing spikes in water violations as farmers and ranchers overdraw their permits.

 

Even more troubling, drought conditions are showing signs of becoming self-sustaining. Lack of rainfall today means less moisture is available to create future rainfall tomorrow. Even when it does rain, it doesn't necessarily help much, as water runs off hard-baked ground in flash floods instead of being absorbed into soil or plant roots. A recent study in Nature explained that drought-stricken trees often die even after rainfall has returned, because their ability to suck up water has been fatally compromised. Even in the worst-affected areas, there has been rain – considerable storms, even – during this drought. But it hasn't been enough to turn things around. Instead, for most of the drought-stricken U.S., this scary state of affairs is predicted to persist or intensify.

 

That brings us to the biggest reason not to ignore this drought: It's a harbinger of things to come.

 

Last week, a newly released draft of the National Climate Assessment cited severe drought among other recent examples of extreme weather that prove that "climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present."

 

The report warns that the greatest consequences of climate change will come in the form of more extreme "extremes" – not just drought, but also intense heat, rains, flooding and storms. It predicts a future where drought is more severe, U.S. crop yields are lower and the ability of ecosystems to moderate the effects of drought is diminished.

 

"The Dust Bowl (in the 1930s) lasted for several years, but eventually the rains returned and the region recovered," U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) wrote in a recent letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Unfortunately, our current drought may be more than a passing natural phenomenon."

 

"Unfortunately" is right. We simply can no longer think of drought as aberrant weather that we can ignore until it goes away. Instead, it's part of our new, unpredictable normal.

 

article, plus links

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/dont-ignore-the-drought-20130117

 

 

Is the drought an anomaly or new normal?

 

Angela Bowman, Staff Writer  |  Drovers CattleNetwork

Updated: 01/17/2013

 

Several wet weather systems gave hope to producers across the southern Plains and into the Gulf Coast states. Though these systems improved the nation’s overall drought by a few percentage points, it did little else to ease the magnitude of the intense drought felt by many in the heartland.

 

Currently, 58.87 percent of the contiguous United States is in moderate or worse drought, according to the latest Drought Monitor released on Thursday. This is down slightly from last week’s report of 60.26 percent.

 

With 77 percent of Nebraska covered in exceptional drought, it continues to be the hardest-hit state in the nation. This week also marks the 20th consecutive week with little change to drought conditions in the state. The last time Nebraska reported a lower percentage was in August, when just 23 percent was experiencing exceptional drought. 

 

Other states – Kansas (35 percent), South Dakota (31 percent), and Oklahoma (39 percent) – also reported high percentages of exceptional drought. The drought has also now slowly drifted to the west, including Colorado and Wyoming, where at least 50 percent of each state is in extreme or worse drought.

 

Though some areas of Texas, primarily those along the Louisiana border, recorded up to an inch of rain over the last week, little improvement was made in the Lone Star State’s drought. More than half of Texas is in moderate or worse drought, with pockets of extreme and exceptional drought popping up and expanding all across the state.

 

Click here to see how your state is doing...

 

In an interview with Reuters, experts suggest that it could become a near-term problem for agricultural states in the region and a possible long-term challenge of millions of Americans.

 

"Everyone is wondering whether this dry weather is the new norm ... or an anomaly that will soon pass," said Barney Austin, director of hydraulic services for INTERA Inc, an Austin, Texas-based geoscience and engineering consulting firm, told Reuters.  "We all hope for the latter, but it's hard to tell."

 

How long the drought will persist is uncertain, though many expect it to last well into 2013...

 

more

http://www.cattlenetwork.com/cattle-news/Is-the-drought-an-anomaly-or-new-normal-187343671.html

 

 

As drought persists, many scramble to save every drop of water

 

By Carey Gillam - Reuters

Thu Jan 17, 2013 2:26pm EST

 

(Reuters) - The drought that crippled many communities across the nation last year shows little sign of retreating, and the threat of persistent water scarcity is spurring efforts to preserve every drop.

 

As the drought of 2012 creeps into 2013, experts say the slow-spreading catastrophe presents near-term problems for a key U.S. agricultural region and potential long-term challenges for millions of Americans.

 

"Everyone is wondering whether this dry weather is the new norm ... or an anomaly that will soon pass," said Barney Austin, director of hydraulic services for INTERA Inc, an Austin, Texas-based geoscience and engineering consulting firm. "We all hope for the latter, but it's hard to tell."

 

The signs of distress and the search for answers are most prevalent in the Plains, where historic drought blankets much of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and parts of Texas.

 

This month the small Oklahoma farming town of Wapanucka lost water completely when the spring-fed wells the community relies on ran dry. Officials closed schools and residents had to do without tap water until the town could run a line to a neighboring water district.

 

In Texas, state lawmakers are pushing for a $2 billion fund to finance water infrastructure projects as numerous communities face their own shortages. But it won't be soon enough to help rice farmers, who were told this month that there is not likely to be enough water to irrigate their fields this spring.

 

Meanwhile, in the big wheat-growing state of Kansas, penalties for exceeding water use limits for irrigation were doubled this month and Governor Sam Brownback has launched a task force to come up with strategies to counter statewide shortages.

 

"It's going to be dry again this year," said Lane Letourneau, water appropriations manager for the Kansas Agriculture Department. "We consider this a really big deal."

 

SEARCHING FOR SOLUTIONS

 

Water use is already tightly curtailed in many states. Years of low rainfall and high heat - last year was the hottest on record for the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - have diminished surface waters even as population and water demand expand.

 

As well, agricultural and oil and gas interests are pumping the precious commodity from underground aquifers at a pace that often cannot be matched by natural replenishment.

 

"Water has been viewed as a basic commodity, a basic right," said Les Lampe, a water expert with consultancy Black & Veatch. "You turn on the tap and water comes out and you don't pay very much for it. That has to change."

 

Farmers are feeling the pain of water shortages most acutely. After multibillion-dollar crop and livestock losses tied to last year's drought, they fear more losses are coming.

 

Texas rice growers who depend on the lower Colorado River valley for survival are eyeing the fluctuating levels of two key lakes used for irrigation when river levels are too low.

 

State officials said this month that without enough rain by spring, rice farmers could be completely cut off from irrigation, jeopardizing about 2 percent of the U.S. crop and about $1 billion for the Texas economy.

 

"We've got a shortage of water," said Ronald Gertson, a rice grower and chairman of the Colorado Water Issues Committee. "People are going to be both hungry and thirsty before they wake up to this problem."

 

Forecasts show drier-than-normal weather likely prevailing in the Plains and western Midwest for the next few months at least. But even normal rainfall levels would not be enough to fully recharge resources.

 

Three to five times more rain than normal is needed in key corn-growing areas that include Nebraska and Kansas, for instance, to ease soil dryness after last summer's drought, according to Don Keeney, an agricultural meteorologist with Cropcast weather service.

 

Roughly 60.26 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least moderate drought as of January 8, according to a "Drought Monitor" report issued by a group of federal and state climatology experts. Severe drought still blanketed 86.20 percent of the High Plains.

 

"This drought certainly has gotten people's attention," said Joe Straus, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. "Regardless of whether it starts raining now or not, long-term water planning is essential. We need to be responsible."

 

For some, it's already an emergency...

 

more

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/17/us-usa-drought-shortages-idUSBRE90G16820130117