Agriculture In The Us Great Plains

Despite the richness of this literature on institutions and environmental affairs, there is room for additional research on the institutional design criteria that lead to effective water management in general and drought management (whether anticipatory or reactive) in particular. We return to the case of the U.S. Great Plains. Substantial evidence exists about specific water management successes and failures in this region (e.g., Glantz, 1994; Riebsame, 1990; Riebsame, 1991; Webb, 1931). The fact that the region has experienced multiple droughts subsequent to the 1930s Dust Bowl years without the associated dramatic impacts on human health, soil quality, employment, and out-migration is generally taken as a reflection of the success of the social adaptations implemented in response to the event (Warrick and Bowden, 1981). Although it is important to recognize this general success, subsequent Great Plains droughts have reminded residents that sensitivity to the effects of droughts is a dynamic process, and that past successes are no reason to cease improving disaster preparedness ( Popper and Popper, 1987; Rosenberg and Wilhite, 1983; Wilhite and Easterling, 1987) or risk management (Wilhite, 2001).

Adaptations in the United States since the 1930s have centered on government assistance, along two dimensions: insurance against losses from natural disasters, and science and technology outreach. Spectacular evidence of successful S&T outreach is seen in the spread of irrigation among Great Plains farmers. From the end of the 1940s through the end of the 1990s, irrigated acreage in the region expanded from 2.1 million acres to 13.9 million acres (McGuire, 2003). This increase was catalyzed by massive S&T outreach programs that promoted irrigation as a fix for the factor (rainfall) limiting agriculture in this semiarid region. The irrigation has been largely restricted to farmers with access to one of the continent's largest aquifers, the Ogallala Aquifer. The existence of the irrigation water has allowed for a large-scale, intensive agricultural system that drives local economies to flourish at levels it might not otherwise reach (Kromm and White, 1990). This fossil resource may be approaching the end of its economic life: in some parts of the region, withdrawal rates have exceeded recharge rates by a factor of 100 (Taylor et al., 1988). Irrigation efficiencies have been improving in recent years, but it remains to be seen if the resource is being used sustainably (Riebsame, 1991; Wilhite, 1988).

As unsustainable as this water mining may be, there is little reason to expect significant changes in irrigation rates. Since the 1930s, a "moral geography" has emerged at the national level vis-à-vis the Great Plains. Federal financial assistance has been repeatedly offered during times of stress to "needy Jeffersonian yeomen farmers" almost regardless of cost (Opie, 1998) and sometimes in spite of actual need (Wil-hite, 1983). This regional social contract generally favors the growth-driven industrial model of agriculture over economic diversification or ecologically sensitive land uses (Riebsame, 1994; Roberts and Emel, 1995). Given these institutional biases and incentives and associated market forces, farmers with access to Ogallala water are almost forced to irrigate. As such, one of the most effective mechanisms for reducing sensitivity to drought—Ogallala irrigation—may cease to be viable at some point during the 21st century. Some areas of the Ogallala have even instituted a "planned depletion" water policy (White, 1994), thereby only postponing—not preventing—when substantial changes in the regional economy (e.g., abandoning intensive farming altogether) may have to be made. In conclusion, the remarkable reductions in vulnerability attributable to the adaptations undertaken by Great Plains farmers (and policy makers in Washington, D.C.) during the 20th century may prove to be only a short-term fix (Bowden et al., 1981; Hulett, 1981; Opie, 2000; Riebsame, 1991; Wilhite, 2001). Only time will tell if the combination of a declining Ogallala water table with a significant drought will overwhelm local institutions' ability to cope (Glantz and Ausubel, 1988; Wilhite, 1988).

Disaster Survival Guides Collection

Disaster Survival Guides Collection

This is a set of 3 guides all about surviving disasters. Within this set you will learn the following subjects: Earthquakes, Evacuations, Survivor Family and Tsunami.

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