?The water crisis in Midwest
Toxins in Lake Erie
The residents have been constantly been advised not to use the water in their taps due to toxins in the drinking water. The New York Times 2014 reported that the residents of Toledo in the state of Ohio were advised not to drink, cook or brush their teeth using tap water. The elderly with a weak immune system were requested not to take a bath with the water. In 2013, the residents of Caroll township experienced the same fate while in 2010, the residents of the Grand Lake St.Marys were banned from using the water completely.
The reason for this water crisis in Toledo can be traced to Lake Erie which is the source of their drinking water. The soil in Ohio is supersaturated with nutrients due to excessive application of fertilizer and humus by most factory farms. When it rains, the surface runoff dissolves the nutrients and drains to Lake Erie, this causes excessive blossoming of alae. Alae produces strong toxins, according to NOAA, the toxins can cause skin rashesastroenteritis and neurotoxicity.
The government in Ohio has made quite a considerable attempt, it has passed a bill to create a fertilizer certification program though many experts argue this strategy as an attempt in vain since the bill exempts application of manure hence the surface runoff of the nutrients will still find its way to Lake Erie. They are also proposing that the polluters trade their right to pollute in an attempt to reduce pollution. This method is also not very effective since it has failed before.
The Ogallala aquifer
The Ogallala aquifer occupies the High Plains of the US, it extends northwards from western Texas to South Dakota. The Ogallala is the main geographic formation that forms the Hih plains aquifer system. The system occupies about 450,000 square KM. The Ogallala is a complex aquifer formed by a combination of several minor geologic formations such as the Tertiary Brule, Arikaree, Dakota formation of Cretaceous.
The Ogallala aquifer was formed about 10million years ao by fluvial deposits from the streams that moved eastwards from the rocky mountains during the Pliocene Epoch. The fluvial deposition between the mountains and the current Western boundary of the Ogallala has been eroded away hence there is no longer water recharge been received from the mountains. The aquifer is unconfined and its recharge solely depends on rainfall and snowmelt. The high plains experience a semi-arid climate, therefore, there is little recharge. The recharge is variant to amount of precipitation, type of soil and vegetation cover and averages less than 25MM annually.
The water depth of the aquifer varies from the actual surface discharge to over 150 M. The aquifer lies between 15 to 90 M below the land surface. The average saturation thickness is about 60M but West-central Nebraska it exceeds 300M, this is one-tenth of western Texas. Nebraska accounts for two-thirds of the volume of Ogallala groundwater with both Texas and Kansas composing of 20% volume. The aquifer is the largest groundwater system in North America.
According to Jane Braxton Little, 2009, It was not until the end of WWII that the industrial-scale extraction of the aquifer was initiated. The replacement of windmills with the diesel-powered pumps saw an increase in output from just a few gallons per minute to a hundred. This turned the plains from brown to green. The thirst of water to sustain these vast plantations lead to an increase in wells, for example, in the year 1937 in Texas, there was just 1,166 wells but by 1977 there were about 66,000 wells. There are currently about 170,000 wells with an average of 1 well per square mile.
Importance of the region
The high plains are the main food basket for the United States. It is home to the vast plantations of sorghum, corn, wheat, and cotton. According to Jane Braxton Little, 2009 the region was considered as unproductive but the technology transformed the plains to the main agricultural hub in the US. The region provides about one-fifth of the total U.S agricultural harvest. The Ollalo aquifer is the one that provides these vast plantations a lease of life by providing water for irrigation.
Water Crisis in the Hih Plains
The rate at which the water is pumped out of the prairie supersedes the rate of aquifer recharge. It is worth noting that the plains experience a semi-arid climate hence precipitation which is the main recharge of the reservoir is minimal. The reservoir has been stretched to the maximum hence creating a water crisis. The owners of the vast plains are the worst hit. The farmers in Southern Kansas, 180 Miles West of Wichita are the worst hit, only deep wells are performing shallow wells have been rendered useless since they can not reach the water level. If the water crisis persists, then more than $20 billion of food and fiber will go down exposing the US to hunger. The decline in water level has caught the eye of the public officials who have turned to the U.S Geological Survey (USGS) who had studied the aquifer since 1900. Their findings were shocking, in some places, the amount of water being pumped out was between four to six feet while the recharge was about half an inch (Jane Braxton Little, 2009). By 1975, the discharge equaled the flow of the Colorado River. Today, the rate of discharge is equivalent to 18 Colorado rivers (to Jane Braxton Little, 2009). According to David Pope who administered groundwater regulations in Kansas, he observed that in some places there will be no drop of groundwater. Unless regulations are put in place to limit the over-exploitation of the aquifer, then the current crisis will be aggravated further.
Due to the escalating water shortages, the farmers are turning to activities which help in conserving water. Some farmers do not plow their lands after harvest, they plant new crops in the residue. According to the article known as The Crop Residue, retention of crop residue after harvesting has been found to be an effective anti-erosion measure, it reduces the rate of evaporation and catches more blowing snow than bare land. This is all in attempt to conserve water.
The decreased water levels have necessitated scientific to develop drought-resistant varieties especially corn which is water thirst. According to Wenwei Xu of the US Department of Agriculture Project says that they design the plant to become more sustainable.
An advanced irrigation technology has been put in place in cotton plantations. They have put sensors that direct when to turn on and off the sprinklers hence conserving water. The scientists are also developing evapotranspiration and integrate it with the high-end tech irrigation system such that lasers will be used to measure the turbulence caused by heat waves which cause the evapotranspiration on a regional scale. According to Clark, this devices will play a vital role in West Texas where the reservoir is in a free fall.
The farmers are also encouraged to turn to grasslands which have been found to be a potential source of income. Hardberger, an attorney with EDF in Tex is coordinating an experiment to farmlands that have been abandoned as a result of depleted round water with grassland. She states that this will give rise to cattle ranches which is more lucrative to a cotton plantation. The federal government is also offering economic incentives for conservation of existing grasslands.