The Corner

Energy & Environment

A Drought of Biblical Proportions Is Here

A boat launch ramp closed because of low water levels at Lake Oroville, the second-largest reservoir in California and according to daily reports of the state’s Department of Water Resources is near 35% capacity, near Oroville, Calif., June 16, 2021. (Aude Guerrucci/Reuters)

The U.S. is experiencing one of the worst droughts in years. Not “years” as in decades, “years” as in centuries. Scientists project that this summer might be the driest season in 1,200 years. Just for context, that means the last time things were this dry was a few hundred years after Rome collapsed. Extreme droughts like these have important consequences, ones we can’t ignore. Conservationist policies and a reduction in water usage may be needed urgently. 

Heat records are being broken across the country. Drought maps show that 40 percent of America is currently experiencing a drought, particularly in the southwest. Extreme droughts like these are both dangerous and costly. Low rainfall numbers create the conditions for wildfires, which have plagued Western states recently. Wildfires raged last year, leaving at least 40 dead and perhaps 1,000 harmed from the smoke. California in particular has been singed by the outbreak of wildfires. Red-hot forest fires burned over a million acres of land, destroying $10 billion of property in 2020 alone.

Wildfires are not evenly distributed, so the problem is not as salient to those outside the hazardous areas. However, the impact of this mega-drought will affect nearly everyone. The agricultural industry uses 90 percent of industrial water, so food prices may rise. Ancillary industries such as technological services, which use millions of gallons of water per day, may also become more expensive.

The drought has both scientists and politicians concerned. Simon Wang, a meteorologist at Utah State University, described the problem succinctly: 

Since we’re in a drought, we don’t really have much moisture in the soil. And without that moisture, the sun really heats up the ground and the air much faster. So, really what we’re seeing in the south-west is, the ground is burning like a hotplate. And we’re standing on it.

The governor of Utah, Spencer J. Cox, has asked residents to conserve water but remarked that “we need some divine intervention.”

Pending intervention from God Himself, there are measures we can take to improve our resource management. Bringing back controlled burns so that dead timber can’t fuel fires would be a step in the right direction. We also need better messaging about why conservation matters. Expecting citizens to rearrange their life to keep global temperatures below an arbitrary threshold without holding other countries accountable is quixotic. Prioritizing water conservation, fire prevention, and other pragmatic conservation needs is a better way forward.

Politically engaged citizens should want practical solutions that prioritize conservation and innovation. Conservatives, in particular, should champion such proposals as a way to respond to the needs of citizens in affected areas.  

VIEW GALLERY: Western States Drought


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