A disturbing article, “Parched: A New Dust Bowl Forms in the Heartland,” over at National Geographic last month gave attention to Oklahoma’s continuing drought, asserting that it is worse than the epic Dust Bowl of the 1930s. According to author Laura Palmer,
Four years into a mean, hot drought that shows no sign of relenting, a new Dust Bowl is indeed engulfing the same region that was the geographic heart of the original. The undulating frontier where Kansas, Colorado, and the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma converge is as dry as toast. The National Weather Service, measuring rain over 42 months, reports that parts of all five states have had less rain than what fell during a similar period in the 1930s.
The dangers this time around have a lot to do with global warming and the sapping of the Ogallala aquifer, “one of the largest aquifer systems in the world.” Most of the aquifer is used for drinking water and irrigation in dire conditions and is regulated by the states that use it. But Oklahoma has few regulations on its use of the Ogallala, and the water-dependent hog business that has moved into the panhandle area is taking advantage of the state’s lax policies.
The burden on land, which is considered by many experts to be unsuitable for the kind of farming it has long tried to sustain, is worrisome. Add to that a skepticism about climate change and you end up with little impetus to change.