"Thousands have lived without love, not one without water." -- W.H. Auden
While no one is predicting the price of water will one day compete with the price of oil, the truth is, water is a more vital resource, and as demand rises worldwide, those without water could well initiate the new version of the shot heard around the world.
It is nothing new, this concern for water. In truth many civilizations have risen because they built their homes by rivers, lakes and seashores, and many have fallen to ruins because the sources of water ran dry. To put it simply, as Ben Franklin is credited with saying, "When the well runs dry, we learn the wealth of water."
That lesson is certainly raining truth across the world, including large areas of the American West and Southwest. The pains of widespread water shortages are growing. Lakes and rivers have run dry in parts of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma, and drought conditions have plagued many other states in recent times.
In truth, deny it or not, our climate is changing, and while the debate over the reasons for the change have been a hotly contested issue for many years running, few are denying the hard, cold facts. As rains become less frequent, demand for water is exceeding supply, and regardless whether we find ourselves in a historical drought because of naturally occurring changes in the weather or because green house gases are contributing to the problem doesn't really matter. When all the wells run dry, life as we know it will drastically change.
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Lyndon B. Johnson put it this way: "A nation that fails to plan intelligently for the development and protection of its precious waters will be condemned to wither because of its shortsightedness. The hard lessons of history are clear, written on the deserted sands and ruins of once proud civilizations."
Perhaps nothing could be more true.
Water emergencies declared
At the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California, this week, scientists, federal officials, farmers and representatives gathered to address California's historic water crisis. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a water emergency recently prompting state water officials to say for the first time ever, allocations to downstream agencies from the California Water Project will drop to zero.
Water officials in Las Vegas say things there are not much better. They are considering asking the federal government to declare a water shortage disaster in Nevada and want the federal government to provide disaster aid.
Farmers in New Mexico are staging religious events to pray for rain and heavier snow packs this winter. Texas and New Mexico officials are preparing to fight over water rights before the Supreme Court, while U.S. and Texas officials continue to lobby against Mexican authorities who they say have failed to release water stored in reservoirs in northern Mexico that is owed to the United States by a 1944 International Water Treaty.
Still unresolved, Texas water officials this week heard hours of testimony from leaders of agriculture, industry and local government bickering over water rights of the Colorado River.
As forecasters call for another dry summer, federal, state and local fire officials are searching for resources as they gear up for what many fear will be another intense year of wildfires.
After multiple years of debate, water cooler talk, political rhetoric and saber rattling, federal officials recently chimed in with a plan first promised by President Barrack Obama, namely a Climate Action Plan designed to deal with the changing climate and the growing water crisis facing the nation. Whether the plan is too little too late or simply not enough in the face of the growing crisis remains to be seen, but many are calling it a step in the right direction.
On Feb. 5 the White House announced the formation of seven "climate hubs" to help farmers and rural communities adapt to extreme weather conditions and other effects of climate change.
Designed to be information centers, these regional hubs will be located across the West and Southwest and throughout other regions of the nation. They are expected to help farmers and ranchers handle risks associated with the changing climate.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the "Climate Hubs" will address increasing risks such as fires, invasive pests, devastating floods, and crippling droughts on a regional basis, aiming to translate science and research into information to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners on ways to adapt and adjust their resource management.
"For generations, America's farmers, ranchers and forest landowners have innovated and adapted to challenges. Today, they face a new and more complex threat in the form of a changing and shifting climate, which impacts both our nation's forests and our farmers' bottom lines," said Vilsack. "USDA's Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate."
Vilsack and other federal officials say changes in the climate are having a widespread effect on agriculture. In the Midwest, growing seasons have lengthened by almost two weeks since 1950. The fire season across much of the U.S. is now 60 days longer than it was 30 years ago, and officials say forests will become increasingly threatened by insect outbreaks, fire, drought and storms over the next 50 years.
The Secretary said these events threaten the nation's food supply and are costly for producers and rural economies. Drought alone, he says, was estimated to cost the U.S. $50 billion since 2011.
"Such risks have implications not only for agricultural producers, but for all Americans," Vilsack said.
He said the seven Regional Hubs for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change are going to do develop a risk analysis of crop production and of forestry as they relate to changing climates.
"These hubs will establish the vulnerabilities that we have in each region of the country. We’ll determine from those vulnerabilities strategies and technologies and steps that can be taken to mitigate the impacts and effects of climate change," Vilsack said at a special White House briefing.
He told reporters that the hubs would also aid agriculture by helping farmers to adapt to the changing climate by developing new ways and methods to farm.
"It will take full advantage of the partnerships that we have with land grant universities, our sister federal agencies, as well as the private and nonprofit sector. And every five years, these climate hubs will be reviewed."
The hubs will be located at the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, Agricultural Research Service, Ames, Iowa; Northern Research Station, Forest Service, Durham, N.H.; Southern Research Station, Forest Service, Raleigh N.C.; National Resources Center, Agricultural Research Service, Fort Collins, Colo.; Grazinglands Research Lab, Agricultural Research Service, El Reno, Okla.; Pacific Northwest Research Station, Forest Service, Corvallis, Ore.; and Rangeland Management Unit/Jornada Experimental Range, Agricultural Research Service, Las Cruces, N.M.
Substations will be located in Houghton, Mich., Davis, Calif., and Puerto Rico.