Monday, June 18, 2012

So What Exactly Does "Drought" Mean?

They're calling this a "Hundred Year Drought." Until we moved up here I don't think I really comprehended how important water actually is. Before, the word "drought" would come up here and there, you would notice lawns getting a little brown, but no one really paid much attention. Not so when you get up into rural, agricultural country.

On a normal year, we would have more than enough water to irrigate our hay pasture without much difficulty. In the spring, we get what they call "free water" which is overflow from the lakes and rivers and creeks as the winter snows melt off. But there was hardly any snow last winter. This year, we've been told, what we saw for water was about 1/3 of what we'd normally see. And it ended about a month earlier than it normally would. We never did manage to get water on over half of our pasture, and when you walk out there you can hear the dry grass crunch beneath your boots.

Now we're on "ordered water" - we have 'shares' of irrigation water that we call to have them send to us when we want to irrigate. On a normal year, we'd have enough to keep our ditches full for about a month after free water runs out - which should take us up to the rainy season. This year, because there just isn't enough water in the creek, we're only going to have water in our ditches for about two weeks. And we've already used a week of that - we have one week left of water before it's just gone. What this means is that our pasture will produce only a small percentage of the hay it would normally produce. This, in turn, means we will have less hay to sell, meaning our income from the pasture will be significantly lower than originally expected. And the likelihood of a rainy season occurring at all seems pretty small.

Add to the lack of water our absurd climatic conditions, and it's just an all around terrible year - especially for our first year spent trying to farm. With the temperatures a solid 10 degrees higher than normal and virtually no rain yet this spring, the soil is dry as a bone. We water, but then the constant wind dries it out before we can get more water on it. Half of the seeds I planted in the garden never sprouted, what plants I grew in the greenhouse are so wind-whipped and dehydrated that they are hardly growing, and even the root vegetables aren't producing roots because there just isn't the moisture for them to do it. Add to that the fact that many of the most noxious weeds up here thrive on dry, barren conditions, and it's no wonder I'm struggling in the garden this year. 

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It's amazing all of the things that water affects. The wildlife is moving off in search of water, meaning families like us who depend on game for meat might not be able to find it. Bears are coming down lower because there isn't food or water enough to sustain them in the higher areas they usually stay in. Folks that run cows on pasture that's irrigated with ditch water suddenly have no 'wild water' for their cattle to drink, they have to haul the water out to them. Hay prices are skyrocketing, some farmers selling hay for as high as $12 a bale just so they can make ends meet.  This means folks with animals won't be able to afford to feed them, and folks in the city will see prices of meat, dairy products, and vegetables go up because of the astronomical expense in producing these commodities.

And check this out. The Grand Junction Free Press is writing a series of articles on the water situation in our area, which is now being called a "severe drought". This particular paragraph really caught my attention:
"Meanwhile, water consumption doesn't seem to be going anywhere but up. The state demographer projects that by 2050, Colorado's population could nearly double, to about 10 million people. Where will this water come from? State water planners and groups of stakeholders in each of the state's major river basins (Basin Roundtables) are wrestling with this question right now. Solutions include taking more water from the Colorado River's headwaters to the Front Range, taking more water from agriculture, and increasing conservation — each of which faces different hurdles and has different impacts on state and local economies and quality of life."

So they're saying that, since our population is growing by leaps and bounds, and people are using more and more water, that one of the solutions is to take more water away from agriculture?! So these people will have green lawns and long, hot showers... but what are they going to eat? They aren't going to be able to afford to buy any food, that's for sure.

So that's what "drought" means. It means farmers have to crank up their prices in order to survive the lack of production of their crops, which means city folks should expect to see prices for everything they eat to start going up. (The exception, of course, is corn, which the government has subsidized. So if nothing else, there'll be plenty of GMO corn for everyone to eat until the entire nation is afflicted with cancers and other cell abnormalities because they're consuming as many herbicides and pesticides as they are any sort of nutrition. But I'll save that soapbox for another day.) And yes, it means your lawn will probably be brown this year.

1 comment:

leavesheal said...

Don't stress it ;-)
Those GMO's are already hard at work on a solution! Infertility would be a "perfect remedy" to that doubling of the population "problem," now, wouldn't it?!