Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Nation’s waters suffering under climate change

By Frances Lamberts

On Aug. 26, the Johnson City Press showed an old (1965) photo of a farm then located on Highway 81 between Jonesborough and Erwin, with its proud owner by a row of Golden-Sweepstakes 15-feet-tall corn which produced 35 to 40 tons of silage per acre.

The day before, a New York Times article had included pictures of a North Dakota farmer in his corn field, planted in early June. The stunted plants, which “should be six, seven, eight foot tall” were barely reaching to his hip, with no cobs at all, due to drought.

For 18 months since January 2020, the article indicates, the worst drought since modern record keeping began 126 years ago is gripping a dozen counties there. Much of the western states and all of North Dakota are experiencing various degrees of drought. Oat fields’ yield, the farmers state, is less than half a normal year’s. Grass, which should be green and reach to the knee is brown, the hay crop abysmal and ranchers forced to sell much of their livestock. Potentially, so the prediction, “half the cattle in the state may be gone by fall.”

Hotter air – North Dakota having warmed 2.04 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century – is sucking all the moisture it can from the soil and the plants, and heat has even dried up many local water sources.

The evidence of climate-change impacts on our food system and water resources continues to mount. 

For  instance, an August Science journal issue reported a nationwide study of the network of streams which normally flow only part of the year. U.S. Geological Survey researchers reveal in it, through 40-year data from flow-gauges on 540 of these intermittent streams, mostly in rivers’ head-water regions, that most of of them “are getting even drier.” They shrivel earlier in the season and stay dry longer, many as much as 100 days longer. 

This ominous shift toward less and shorter flow in the non-perennial streams, which constitute over half of our total stream network length, has occurred since 1980. Should it continue, it would have serious implications for downstream surface water availability for municipalities, agriculture and all other uses.

We may be grateful for the Biden Administration’s many investments toward minimizing the serious threats from climate change, but also, especially, its recently announced reversal of then President Trump’s “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” which had denied Clean Water Act protection to the nation’s non-perennial streams.