Written by Dale Suderman Tuesday, 17 April 2007 14:15My Easter trip to Kansas was a chance to experience three of the four seasons in seven days. It was spring when I arrived with trees flowering and budding. This was followed by a day of summer with the temperatures approaching 80 degrees. The next afternoon 6 inches of winter snow blanketed flowers and early blooming trees. I saw a snowman built on top of dandelions.
Only the fall foliage of autumn was missing.
Questions about of how this climatic oddity impacted the wheat, flowers and shrubs will eventually be answered both by nature and crop insurance adjusters.
In Kansas precipitation in any form is appreciated—even when it destroys crops, picnics and the MCC sale.
When weather forecasters in Chicago predict a “terrible weekend” they mean clouds, rain and a poor day to play golf. For city folks, perfect weather is every day with full sun for 365 days a year. Few of them even know such weather is only consistently found in Death Valley and the Sahara desert.
Country weather in Kansas can contain predictions of tornadoes, baseball-sized hail and the local folks will calculate how much moisture this might leave in their rain gauges in the morning.
I remember the drought in the mid-1950s when the ground had cracks deep enough to drop a pitchfork. Long established wells went dry and streambeds became hiking trails.
During the 1950s there was a proposal to irrigate Texas with water from Lake Michigan. The plan was to run a garden hose from Chicago to Dallas. The theory was that if Texans could suck as hard as they blow this was all that was needed.
Once again Kansas needs gully washers that flood small towns, test the limits of spillways on reservoirs and dams and rip out terraces causing comparisons to the floods of 1952 to offset the recent years of below average rainfall.
But even cloudbursts are only a short-term solution to the water problems of Kansas—and the world. Today more than a billion people lack access to clean water. The average supply of water for each person on the planet will decline by a third in the next 20 years.
We are preoccupied with a pending oil shortage. But in an extreme energy crisis we can walk if we have to. But without water a human being cannot survive more than three days.
Ultimately we can develop alternative energy sources. Thus far there is no progress in discovering an alternative to water.
The case of the Ogallala Aquifer on the western plains is fascinating. More water will be pumped from the aquifer to irrigate corn crops to produce ethanol for our gas tanks. But the process will merely turn one scarce commodity into another.
We see the conflicts in the Middle East as battle over energy. But many of the local conflicts within that region are over the increasing scarcity of water.
Spring drizzles and late snows bring the solace of adequate moisture for grasses and grains.
Hopefully these do not distract us from the deeper and more complex issues of groundwater.
You can contact the writer at Dale.Suderman@gmail.com