drought brings despair to much of US
CITY, Mo. - They were praying for rain at the St. Patrick
parish church in Grand Rapids, Ohio this week.
With hands clasped and eyes cast downward, about 100 desperate
farmers and rural residents gathered at the church on Wednesday
to seek divine intervention in an extended drought in Ohio
and much of the United States that is fast becoming one
of the worst in the last century.
of us have control over whether it is going to rain or
not," said Sister Christine Pratt, rural life director
for the Catholic Diocese of nearby Toledo. "But the people
are praying for one another and there is some hope."
has taken a grip on more than half of the United States,
experts calculate. Twenty-six states are suffering severe
drought conditions and "exceptional drought" - the worst
level of drought measured - has blanketed thirteen states,
including New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah.
a typical year, drought hits 10 percent to 12 percent
of the country.
is pretty dire," said Mark Svoboda, climatologist for
the National Drought Mitigation Center. "We're seeing
agricultural impacts...We have a lot of hydrological problems
with wells and reservoirs and streams going dry. This
is going to total billions of dollars when it is all said
southern California to South Carolina and from Montana
to New Mexico, individuals and industries are suffering.
Spera, owner of Canal Lakes Resort in South Carolina,
is one of thousands of operators of recreational businesses,
like marinas, restaurants, and lodges, who has watched
his income drop along with lake levels.
drought has been knocking a hole in our economics," he
said. "We don't have enough water."
WITHERING, HERDS SOLD OFF
wither in heat-baked fields, and ranchers have sold off
herds rather than let them starve for lack of pasture.
have never seen it like this and I'm 60 years old," said
Richard Traylor, who owns 37,000 acres (15,000 hectares)
in Texas and New Mexico but has sold off much of his cattle
has also been hit as the drought turned state and national
parks into kindling. So far this year, wildfires have
scorched more than 4.6 million acres (1.9 million hectares),
twice the average acreage burned in the previous decade.
is a scramble for new water sources as town and city residents
are urged to stop watering lawns and washing cars.
Monticello, Georgia, south of Atlanta, officials this
week banned all outside watering, saying creek levels
were so low that the area could run out of water in 30
to 45 days.
estimates for drought-related losses are still being tallied,
with agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture
waiting for harvesting of corn and soybean and other key
crops to conclude before loss figures are compiled. This
summer's wheat harvest underscored the devastation as
production fell to the lowest levels in nearly 30 years.
Nebraska, experts have pegged the losses at more than
$1.4 billion. "It is really, really awful," said Nebraska
Gov. Mike Johanns. "Even some of the folks who lived through
the 'dust bowl' years will say it is as bad as it has
ever been," he said referring to a severe drought in the
Colorado, Denver's water reservoirs hit a historic low
on July 1, at only 66 percent full. And this month, Colorado
Gov. Bill Owens signed into law a bill creating a $1 million
emergency drought fund so farmers and ranchers can buy
leaders are clamoring for Washington to allocate disaster
aid. Though the scope of assistance needed has not been
determined, some call for more than $5 billion.
SNOW LOWEST ON RECORD
key factor in the water shortage is the lack of adequate
snowpack in the mountains. Melting snow from higher elevations
usually feeds rivers and streams, but this year, snowpacks
in the Rocky Mountains were only a quarter of normal levels
- one of lowest on record, said Douglas LeComte, a drought
specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
of rain is the other obvious factor. In Dodge City, Kansas,
rainfall over the 14 months ending in July amounted to
the driest period since 1952-53.
water shortages are prompting battles between upstream
and downstream states and between individuals and businesses.
Jasper County, South Carolina, more than 100 people turned
out last week for a meeting with state officials after
a drop in an underground aquifer left them without water.
Rural residents blamed business operators for using too
and South Carolina are fighting over North Carolina's
refusal to release water from its reservoirs downstream.
"People are battling for water like we've never seen before,"
said Hope Mizzell, South Carolina's drought program coordinator.
year's drought is the extension of more than two years
of very dry conditions in many states, said LeComte. Some
areas are experiencing their fifth consecutive year of
conditions are near those seen during the country's most
devastating drought in the 1930s - the "dust bowl" years,
when some 60 percent of the United States was affected.
warming, changing weather patterns, bad land management
and many other factors are involved in the debate over
what caused the current drought. But right now the focus
is more on when it will end.
need to recharge the water supply," said Svoboda. "Just
about every part of the country needs a good wet winter.