Thursday, August 16, 2012

Drought Politics ... by gimleteye

Boy, have we dodged the drought bullet in South Florida. A few years ago, in 2004, I wrote a piece for a national magazine. The editors asked me to list the most important environmental issues in the presidential election cycle. I predicted that the destruction of the Ogallala aquifer would finally come to the fore. Boy, I was wrong.

The Ogallala stretches from South Dakota to Texas, and takes in parts of Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma. The prehistoric water supply, deep underground, has been over-mined to service industrial scale agriculture. Where I was wrong is that voters in these key battleground states who depended on the aquifer, simply dried up along with the water. Oklahoma still keeps a US senator James Inhofe in place who believe global warming in a massive liberal hoax.

I wonder if voters will dry up the same way in states now afflicted by the 2012 drought. Everyone of standing in the radical right-- meaning, Rush Limbaugh, Jeb! Bush, Marco Rubio, the Koch Brothers and their devotees -- are in denial. Next year will be different. Well, what if it is not different? What if, over the next decade, drought becomes chronic over a wide swath of the food belt? Qualified climate scientists predict that will be the case.

Rush Limbaugh, Jeb!, and the Koch Brothers will be just fine. What about you?

The mainstream media is paying attention to this drought. Here is the latest from AP: "After months of record-breaking heat and drought, many rural Americans who rely on wells for water are getting an unwelcome surprise when they turn on their faucets: The tap has run dry."

In Miami, it has been a wet summer. But Lake Okeechobee -- tapped for Big Sugar and cities -- is at a low level notwithstanding the rains. I'm guessing about as many people understand the implications as vote at the polls. I hope I am wrong ...

Rural Wells Run Dry After Months of Drought, Extreme Heat

A lack of running water now plagues many homeowners across the Midwest
Related: Earth
By Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - After months of record-breaking heat and drought, many rural Americans who rely on wells for water are getting an unwelcome surprise when they turn on their faucets: The tap has run dry.

The lack of running water can range from a manageable nuisance to an expensive headache. Homeowners and businesses are being forced to buy thousands of gallons from private suppliers, to drill deeper or to dig entirely new wells.

Mary Lakin's family drained the last of its well water late last month in the small northern Indiana community of Parr. Since then, Lakin, her husband and two children have bathed and done laundry at relatives' homes and filled buckets from their backyard pool every time they need to flush a toilet.

Having water is "just something you take for granted," she said. "It's a big hassle, but we're surviving."

No one tracks the number of wells that go dry, but state and local governments and well diggers and water haulers report many more dead wells than in a typical summer across a wide swath of the Midwest, from Nebraska to Indiana and Wisconsin to Missouri.

It's not unusual for rural wells to stop producing toward the end of a hot summer. But this year is different. Some of the same wells that are known to run dry in August or September instead ran out in June.

Water suppliers and well drillers across the Midwest say they're working long hours to keep up with demand.

"It's seven days a week, man," said Carl Marion, a water hauler in Athens, Ill., north of Springfield. "I work until 12 or 1 o'clock every single night."

Wells are typically drilled 30 or 50 feet down. Some go hundreds of feet before hitting water. And the deeper the well, the more expensive it is, with costs starting at several thousand dollars and climbing in extreme cases into tens of thousands.

In the summer, when lawns, gardens, pools and livestock all drive up use, water levels can drop below a well's pump. If rain doesn't replenish the supply, sometimes the only option is to drill deeper or dig an entirely new well.

Older wells are particularly vulnerable because they may not hold water as efficiently or they may have been dug in places where most of the water is gone.

"It's sort of Darwinism," said George Roadcap, a hydro-geologist with the Illinois Water Survey. "The weak wells get shaken out at a time like this. Many people are using wells that are a hundred years old."

In other cases, well owners have hurt themselves with careless water usage, said Richard Hubert, who owns Hubert Water Hauling Service in Smithville, Ill., about 20 miles southeast of St. Louis.

"We've had a lot of people who were silly enough to take their water out of their well and put it into their pool. Or they ran around watering stuff when we've been dry for 10 weeks," Hubert said. "I don't know what you're thinking when you've got a shallow well, and it hasn't rained."

In many places, the effects of heavy water use go beyond an individual well owner. A large water user such as a farmer irrigating fields or filling livestock ponds can accelerate the drawdown for nearby households.

That appears to have happened to the Lakins and their neighbors, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, which recently reviewed about a dozen dry wells in the area.

"In each of them, it was pretty obvious they were being impacted by pumping," said Mark Basch, head of the agency's water rights and use section.

Under Indiana water law, the department will determine to what extent large users are responsible for nearby wells running dry and assess them a proportional share of the cost of the solution, Basch said.

In Missouri, state officials said last month they would help farmers pay to keep wells pumping using deeper drilling or other means. Through the first week of August, they had agreed to spend more than $18 million on 3,700 wells.

Many homeowners hire water haulers to deliver weekly shipments straight into their wells to temporarily restore the flow.

Since June, Pamela Lashley has been paying $130 to $150 a week to sustain the four wells at Country Estate Kennel in Shiloh, Ill., about 15 miles southeast of St. Louis. The kennel owner has to spend the money to hose down dog runs, launder bedding and fill water bowls.

"It certainly adds to our boarding costs," she said. "It's not something that I put on my clients. It's something that I absorb."

She once considered connecting to a nearby municipal water system, but the initial hookup cost - $28,000 - quickly changed her mind. In the short run, water hauling is far cheaper.

Marion, who drives a water-delivery truck in the area around his home about 15 miles north of Springfield, charges $60 for 2,100 gallons, enough to refill many of the wells he serves for about a week.

A typical American household uses up to 2,800 gallons a week, though the figure can vary widely by location and other factors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Anonymous said...

Great blog! Compare to the insipid Miami Herald editorial Today. Their zeal to put on a good face makes their comments irrelevant as usual. Giminez does not have a mandate for his across the board tea party cuts.

Anonymous said...

The Miami Heralds advice to Lopez cantera to not hire political cronies is hilarious.

Ross said...

John Boehner's website recently stated: “The president continues to blame anyone and everyone for the drought but himself.”

Anonymous said...

Last year Russia had a major drought, decimated almost all its major crops, I wonder how they are doing this year when USA is having a major drought. Do you think we are going to see another sharp rise in food prices? Is there a possibility for serious famine in certain parts of the world in the next year or two?

Ross said...

World wheat stocks are at a record low, corn and other livestock feeds are in short supply, and Russia may ban wheat exports again due to poor harvest. Papa John's is paying higher flour prices but blames price increase on Obamacare.

Geniusofdespair said...

I just went through Lubboth Texas and they are having a drought.

Geniusofdespair said...

Ross go out and beat Fressen will be a massive undertaking. Work those Absentee ballots. Hire a few boleteras or Julio Robaina's uncle.

Ross said...

Genius, I'm at work! (Don't tell my boss I'm reading blogs.) Walking is best from 5 to 8 pm, anyway. Last night we also distributed more "WANTED" posters to senior centers in Cutler Bay to alert staffs to look out for absentee abuse. Things are hitting the fan here, Genius -- get back soon. A large stash of absentee ballots that were too hot to unload is rumored to be in the hands of the authorities.

Anonymous said...

The Koch Brothers are not in denial. As you know, they did a major scientific study to prove that climate change didn't exist. The study proved THEM wrong. Doesn't seem to matter, though. They have more money than morals, so that study will not affect their drive to dupe the Madison Ave. Majority (the same ones that believe a sugary cereal is part of a "well balanced breakfast") into believing that the drought is another plot from Obama's socialist agenda.

hbernstein said...

Does anyone still read the Miami Herald?

Anonymous said...

No. Not really.

Anonymous said...

I read the Miami Herald online. sports people seem to read it alot. Everyone should read it and let them know where they are succeeding and failing. We need a strong newspaper. One of the places they show they are most out of touch and pandering to business and corporate chamber of commerce bull is editorials on local issues and politics. big time CYA for elected officials.