The South-West it’s now in its 11th year of drought. A decade has past and things don’t seem to be getting any better. 2014 was actually the warmest year recorded in California over the past 400 years, but recent scientific studies show that this is nothing compared with what’s to come.
Scientists from the most prestigious universities in the country (Columbia, Cornell and also NASA) had joined forces, and after investigating the matter, released an official paper in the scientific journal Science Advances, warning that the south-west and the central plains are about to face drought conditions unprecedented in the last 1,000 years.
The long cycle of drought in the region (well over 35 years) and little annual precipitation will most likely mean the end of the damp climate we got accustomed to the past 2 centuries. The impact of man on the climate does nothing more than to accommodate the arid conditions that are soon to take over a large portion of U.S. territory. Ben Cook (Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies) had this to say: “Nearly every year is going to be dry toward the end of the 21st century, compared with what we think of as normal conditions now. We’re going to have to think about a much drier future in western North America.”
The forth-coming aridity will have a devastating impact on agriculture and cattle herds. The prices will grow uncontrollably when the drought sets in, affecting an estimate of about $60 million people from regions who depend on scarce water resources or are based on infrastructures designed during an abnormally moist century (San Antonio, San Diego, Omaha etc). The scientists who conducted the research agree that the desert cities like Phoenix and Lax Vegas will suffer the most damage. Data shows that in the past, on a spam of 4 centuries (9th – 14th century), the region had been subjected to a previous period of intense drought, whom paleoclimatologists have deemed the Medieval Climate Anomaly, believed to have been the cause of perdition to some previous civilizations. But the drought that’s to come in 2050 is believed to be much worse than everything else on record. “We are the first to do this kind of quantitative comparison between the projections and the distant past, and the story is a bit bleak. Even when selecting for the worst mega-drought dominated period, the 21st century projections make the (previous) mega-droughts seem like quaint walks through the Garden of Eden”, says Dr Jason Smerdon, climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and co-author of the study.
The mega-drought will spell disaster in more ways than one. The upcoming water shortage does not mean only reduced drinkable water, but it also puts a strain on the vegetation. Dried up vegetation highly increases the risks of wildfire. California and Arizona aren’t the only targets of the phenomena. The study suggests that the affected area will be in fact much larger, comprised of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, North / South Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas and Louisiana. The chance of extended drought (over 40 years), say the scientists, is over 80%, unless measures are taken in order to attenuate the impact and lower the speed of climate change. The scientists involved in this project say that the level of accuracy of the measurements is really high as, unlike other recent studies, they also took into consideration the rise of carbon emissions. 17 separate computer simulations based on the rate of constant rising emissions and complex climate changes gave more-than-accurate results. Not only will the amount of precipitation (rain, snow) be considerably reduced, but high temperatures will speed the evaporation process, leading to arid and inhospitable conditions.
Last year, the Obama administration announced a budget $200 million in order to counter the recent Drought in California. When asked if this would be enough for the upcoming mega-drought, Dr Cook said no. He thinks that these kind measures are only enough for droughts with a certain amount of climate impact, going on for at least a period of 10 – 15 years. The mega-drought of 2050 will surpass all expectations. It will come down to more than a fixed budget. It will take a collective effort from all of the U.S. citizens to prepare for what’s coming.
Water conservation tips for everybody
We must be more protective of our water resources! Here are a few tips and tricks on how we can dampen the impact of the mega-drought that’s about to hit:
- Check the plumbing for leaks and repair what’s damaged, in order to reduce leakage
- Dripping faucets should be replaced a.s.a.p.
- Don’t let the water run down the drain if you could find another use for it (for ex. watering plants)
- Install an instant hot water heater
- Make sure your appliances are both energy and water efficient
- Purchase a low-volume toilette, that uses only half the water in comparison to most models
- Get a ultra-low-flow shower head
- Dispose of food in the garbage rather than using the sink disposal unit
- Don’t purchase water toys that require a constant stream of water
- Don’t install ornamental water fountains
- Harvest rain water
- Make sure your lawn sprinklers don’t waste water on non-green areas (like sidewalks or paved areas)
- Check sprinklers periodically to make sure they’re as water-efficient as possible
- Plant drought-resistant plants and lawn
- User mulch around trees and plants to reduce evaporation
- Avoid over-fertilization (fertilization requires water)
- Turn irrigation off in fall and winter and water manually if you must
- Get a weather-based irrigation controller (a system that sets the irrigation timing and intensity according to the existing weather conditions, not going off when it’s raining)
- Install a water-saving pool filter
- Cover your pool or fountain to avoid evaporation
Water conservation tips for farmers and ranchers
Planning ahead and considering the upcoming climate changes can prolong your business. Be efficient and reduce water consumption for as much as possible.
- Chose the water irrigation system that will make you lose the least amount of water to evaporation, run-off or percolation
- Find ways in which to improve your current irrigation system, making it less wasteful and more efficient
- Get a water storage system
- Store water in ditches in the field
- Use water measurement tools
- Reduce soil evaporation with conservation tillage
- Monitor soil moisture constantly
- Stack up on food and water reserves for your animals
- Animals that do not consume high quantities of water are preferable
- Plant crops and use cropping systems that are less water dependent
The drought that will hit the U.S. in 2050 is not a theory anymore, it’s a scientific certainty. If society fails as a unit, make sure that at least you don’t fail as an individual. Take all the necessary precautions and get ready for what’s about to hit, because it will hit hard!