Much Of US South Experiencing Extreme Drought - Let The Water Wars Begin

Lake Travis (Austin, Texas), July 2009. Image credit:University of Nebraska at Lincoln, National Drought Center; Photo courtesy of Bridget Cameron, Texas Water Development Board.

Large swaths of US southern states are experiencing severe drought impacts, concentrated in the Lower Mississippi River watershed, and extending east through parts of Florida. Portions of Texas, as pictured, also continue to be adversely impacted. Production of tobacco, peanuts, soy, and wheat have fallen in roughly a dozen states; and, cattle producers are being forced to purchase hay instead of letting animals graze freely. If this keeps up, as it is predicted to by NOAA, cattle may be sold off. The typical pattern would be meat prices will go down, then rebound to higher levels than before and stay that way.

Secondary drought impacts on the US Congress of 2011 will be interesting to watch, given the emerging consensus view that Congress should reduce, not expand, the Federal deficit.'Let's shrink the government...yeah!'
In light of the strident anti-government, anti-tax tone which just carried a new wave of conservative victors, I wonder how many Southern governors (see map below) will be contacting their Federal congressional delegations next year to solicit support for emergency aid for farmers and/or Federal water projects? Pipeline to the Great Lakes anyone? (See earlier post from the era of Atlanta's last drought: Republican Legislator Mentions 'Taking Up Arms' In Regard To Threats To Tap The Great Lakes.)

Here's my favorite part from the Great Lakes pipeline post linked above. It was written in 2007, when I first realized that there was not enough money nor enough water, engineering talent, or political will to run Great Lakes pipelines to all the Southern folks who might want access. On the flipside:

You have to wonder how welcoming Michigan residents would be to a drought-driven diaspora of 5 to 10 million new residents, given that the Great Lakes states are already suffering for jobs. The meta message is more like this: 'we'll take your jobs and taxbase and maybe some of your best and brightest.'

Water Wars II
By February of 2011, I'm betting, the US Army Corps of Engineers will have received new requests to build or upgrade water supplies across the South. We've been there and done this so many times before, it's guaranteed that this boar will oink.

Sometimes a joyful pork oink leads to painful squeals. Anyone remember how Jimmy Carter (native Georgian) got in so much political trouble when he pushed to have USAE water project budgets cut, affecting mainly Southern States? There's a book out on it called "Jimmy Carter and the Water Wars."

This time there will be a Tea Party constituency arguing for cutting expenditures instead of adding projects. So, as I say in the headline: let the Water Wars begin.

Update: Just thought of this while out stacking fire wood for the winter. Much of the reputation Democrats achieved for being "tax and spend liberals" came from the period preceding and into the Carter Administration, when Southern States were largely Democratic. For 40 years after WWII, southern Congressional delegations supported Federal money for truly massive water projects like the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, a.k.a. the "TennTom" (a cumulatively 2 Billion dollar project at the time) and the disastrous trans-Everglades canal system. Northern environmentalist NGOs' commonly opposed these projects - hence, those groups were commonly referred to as "elitist."

Now that the South is solidly in Republican hands after the midterms, lets see how Water War II plays out. I'm getting my popcorn popper ready.

Projections are not good.
Per the US Seasonal Drought Outlook graphic presented below, which is current through January of 2011, there could be bad times ahead for many farmers - also for populated areas which rely on consistent rainfall to replenish water supplies (in old reservoirs). More than just hitting agriculture, significant adverse impacts may be expected on drinking water supplies; golf course revenues, boating (as pictured); hydroelectric power generation; and cooling loops of all steam-based turbines: nuclear and coal-fired plants in particular.

Tags: Alabama | Texas