Tom Brown, Economist, Rocky Mountain Research Station's Social and Economic Values Group, Forest Service, USDA, Fort Collins, CO. outlined climate models during his panel presentation at the 2015 Agricultural Outlook Forum. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.
No one can say with certainty what the American climate will be like 45 years from now, but looking at climate models discussed at the Agricultural Outlook Forum last week in suburban Washington, D.C., the best prediction is that the American southwest will be drier, the northwest may get more rain and less snow, and the entire nation will see more climate variability. Weather swings, and their effect on production, will be more pronounced. Some areas may get too much rain in the winter and spring and not enough in the summer and fall. That’s a guess, but it’s an educated one.
A few things are fairly certain: There will be more people, and with a highly diffused American water management system, it will be a challenge to adapt. People will take priority over crops like rice. Every drop of water will count. It will be necessary for areas accustomed to getting much of their water from melting snowpack to store more water in reservoirs, and water now discarded as “dirty” or “grey” can no longer be flushed away. Read more »
Wind rearranges the early season snowpack on Mount Hood, Oregon. NRCS photo by Spencer Miller.
Something about January’s water supply forecast confused me. Current condition maps of the Pacific Northwest are a discouraging spread of red dots, meaning the snowpack contains less than half the normal amount of water. But water supply forecasts for the same region predict normal streamflow in the spring and summer. How can that be? Less snow means less snowmelt, right? Well…maybe.
To rise above my simple, linear thinking, I met with Rashawn Tama with USDA’s National Water and Climate Center. Tama, a hydrologist and forecaster for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, produces forecasts for the Columbia River basin. His forecasts are built around prediction models that help transform tables of raw data into meaningful maps and colorful dots. Read more »
When you take a drink of water in this country, chances are pretty good that it came from a reservoir or river that is managed, or that has been treated in a plant funded with support from the Federal government, or whose headwaters are on public land managed by the United States Forest Service or Department of Interior. Every dollar the federal government spends supporting water quality and quantity impacts millions of Americans. Interagency guidelines governing how investments, programs, and policies that affect water resources are evaluated at the Federal level have been updated for the first time since 1983, and published by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).
Given the importance of water to USDA programs and our customers, we understand that it makes sense to have the most complete and forward-thinking information available to inform our investment and implementation decisions. That enhances our ability to develop programs and projects that conserve water resources while ensuring taxpayer dollars are well spent. USDA is confident that these new guidelines can enhance our decision-making without adversely affecting how we implement our many conservation programs. Read more »
The Gruhlkey brothers – Brittan, 24, Braden 25, and Cameron 20 – worked with NRCS through the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative to adopt better equipment and techniques to manage their water use. USDA photo.
James Pike has tackled an important and thorny issue in Laramie County, Wyoming – water conservation. More specifically, this district conservationist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has diligently worked to encourage farmers and ranchers in the region that is fed by the Ogallala Aquifer to use water wisely.
Stretching from western Texas to South Dakota, the Ogallala Aquifer supports nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle produced in the United States. Underlying about 225,000 square miles of the Great Plains, water from the aquifer is vital to agricultural, cities and industry, making up 30 percent of all groundwater used for irrigation in America. Read more »
As part of the Forest Service’s renewed emphasis on water quality and availability, the agency is developing a comprehensive policy to manage groundwater resources on national forests and grasslands. Greer spring is found on the Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri. (U.S. Forest Service/Chris Carlson)
In recent years, we’ve seen growing concerns about the availability and quality of water across the country. Drought, climate change, land use changes, and needs for additional water highlight these concerns. Stewardship of water resources is one of this country’s most important natural resource issues. In fact, it’s one of the primary reasons national forests and grasslands were created.
As part of our renewed emphasis on water, we are developing a comprehensive policy to monitor, assess, evaluate and measure groundwater resources on national forests and grasslands. We began seeking public comments on May 6 asking your thoughts on a plan to strengthen our ability to protect water resources and support healthy and resilient ecosystems on Forest Service-managed lands. We extended the comment period to Oct. 3. Read more »
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) engineer Kevin King (right) explains an edge of field water quality monitoring station to Ohio State Conservationist Terry Cosby, farm owners Joe and Clint Nester in the Western Lake Erie Basin near Bryan, Ohio on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. The device allows tracking of both surface and underground water moving thru field tile. Monitoring stations results help determine what may be best farming practices on different types of soil in the watershed. USDA photo by Garth Clark.
USDA has a long history of investment in water quality and quantity issues. Still, Toledo, Ohio Mayor Michael Collins issued an emergency water advisory leaving about 500,000 people without clean tap water to drink or cook with from Aug. 2 to Aug. 4. The reason for the advisory: toxins produced by algae in Lake Erie got into the city’s water supply. Residents were forced to rely on bottled and trucked-in water for drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth. The Lake Erie algae bloom incident shows we all have a lot more work to do to ensure adequate water supplies for now and into the future.
In response to the algae bloom incident, USDA leadership, represented by Terry Cosby, NRCS state conservationist, joined Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative Marcy Kaptur, this week to immediately announce $2 million in new federal emergency funds to reduce runoff in the Western Lake Erie Basin. Read more »