Friday, April 30, 2010

The Ogallala Aquifer Is Drying Up Which Means The Great Plains Could Soon Turn Into The Great American Desert

America's breadbasket is facing an environmental crisis of unimaginable proportions and most Americans have absolutely no idea what is happening.  The water that is used to irrigate much of America's Great Plains comes from a massive underground lake known as the Ogallala Aquifer.  This gigantic underground lake stretches from southern South Dakota through northern Texas, covering approximately 174,000 square miles. So what is the problem?  Well, it turns out that the Ogallala Aquifer is being drained at an alarming rate, and that means that the Great Plains could soon turn into the Great American Desert.  If that happens, American could very well see a devastating repeat of the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.

One of the scientists trying to get out the warning about this coming environmental nightmare is Dr. Kevin Mulligan, a professor of Economics and Geography at Texas Tech.  Dr. Mulligan and his students have mapped the Ogallala Aquifer extensively, and what they have found is quite alarming.  Not only have they found that the aquifer is much shallower in places than many originally thought, but they also have found that the aquifer is being drained much faster than anticipated.

In fact, Dr. Mulligan estimates that at peak times it is being drained at a rate of 800 gallons per minute.  Not only that, but they have also determined that many areas of the Great Plains that are dependent on the Ogallala Aquifer will run out of useable water by the year 2030.

Are you starting to get the picture?

In fact, Dr. Mulligan recently made the following statement about this crisis to a stunned audience....

"This will certainly mean the end of pivot irrigation in the region."

The reality is that the Great Plains have not always been a great agricultural area.
Way back in 1823, a U.S. government surveyor named Stephen Long was mapping out the Great Plains, and he was quite unimpressed by what he saw.  In fact, his geographer wrote the following in a report about the expedition....

I do not hesitate in giving the opinion that it is almost wholly unfit for cultivation, and of course, uninhabitable by a people depending upon agriculture for their subsistence.

Well, thanks to irrigation, the Great Plains are not only "habitable", but that region is currently one of the great breadbaskets of the world.  What Long's mapping expedition referred to as "The Great American Desert" has been turned into an agricultural wonder thanks to an expanse of green circles defined by the reach of central pivot irrigation systems.

But all of that is changing as the Ogallala Aquifer rapidly becomes depleted.

David Brauer, program manager for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service Ogallala Aquifer Program, recently told the following to AOL News.... 

"You go to areas where the aquifer has been depleted, [they] look pretty poor now."

So will we soon see the return of the infamous "black blizzards" that were so devastating during the days of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s?

To get an idea of how incredibly destructive these dust storms were, just consider the words of historian Donald Worster from his book entitled "The Dust Bowl"....

"The dust storms that swept across the southern plains in the 1930s created the most severe environmental catastrophe in the entire history of the white man on this continent. In no other instance was there greater or more sustained damage to the American land, and there have been few times when so much tragedy was visited on its inhabitants. Not even the Depression was more devastating, economically. And in ecological terms we have nothing in the nation’s past, nothing even in the polluted present, that compares."

Those days could soon be returning and most people who live in the Great Plains have absolutely no idea.

And all of this comes at a time when global food supplies are already stretched to their limit.

It is now being projected that global demand for food will more than double over the next 50 years. Today there are over 6 billion people on earth. Around 2040 or so there will be 9 billion people on earth. By the 2060s, there would be over 11 billion people on this planet.

So where in the world are we going to get the food to feed all of those people?

We take so much for granted today, but the reality is that disaster is just around the corner.  America's breadbasket is going to quickly turn to dust if something is not done, and if that happens it is going to have horrifying consequences that most of us could not even imagine.

Our environment does not have unlimited resources.  Once they are gone they are gone. 

So what are we going to do once America's breadbasket is gone?

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