Water. Where there is water there is life. Where there is no water, life struggles. Water is one of the most important resources and necessities that human kind has, however we do not treat it as such. Water covers 70.9% of our earth, but 97% of that water is salt water. Fresh, safe, accessible water only makes up 0.3% of all the water on Earth. Wetlands, some of the most important bodies of water, are quickly drying up and adversely affecting the environment. Why is it so essential to protect this important, irreplaceable resource?
The US has seen a long history of droughts that have immensely affected the well-being and livelihood of many Americans throughout history. The Dust Bowl is the most prominent severe drought when looking back at our drought history. The “Dirty Thirties” was characterized by severe dust storms caused by extreme drought and decades of extensive farming without implementing techniques to prevent erosion. This caused major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands. These huge dust storms, known as “Black Blizzards” and “Black Rollers”, sometimes made it all the way to the East Coast and the Atlantic Ocean.
Many people were forced to relocate to other areas of the United States where they could find better economic conditions. The National Drought Mitigation Center found that government financial assistance may have been as high as $1 billion (in 1930s dollars)by the end of the drought.
Throughout the rest of the 20th century there were mild to severe droughts across many areas of the United States. In the 1950s the drought in central Nebraska reached a drought index of -7, three points below the extreme level. The Northeastern United States experienced a devastating drought that lasted almost 5 years in the 1960s. During the 1980s, virtually every area of the United States experienced a drought.
In the 21st century, the three main affected areas for droughts have been the Midwest, Rocky Mountains and California. The US Drought of 2002 turned an average fire season into a very dangerous one. Denver was forced to impose mandatory limits regarding water. Here is a short video from National Geographic detailing the history and potential future of the Colorado River. The California drought between 2006-2011 contributed to severe wildfires in 2007 throughout the state. This drought caused California to declare a drought emergency. After subsiding for a couple years, the drought resurfaced in 2013 leading to the extreme water predicament they are in now.
Current California Drought
The current drought in California is a perfect example of why water usage policies need to change, especially in areas with drought risk. The LA Times recently published an article saying that the state only has one year left of water supply in its reservoirs and backup sources is rapidly disappearing. There have been many attempts to combat this issue including rationing, restrictions, fines and the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
Here is an infographic detailing the progression of the drought in California.
A quote from the LA Times article explained the entirety of this situation: Our state’s water management is complex, but the technology and expertise exist to handle this harrowing future. It will require major changes in policy and infrastructure that could take decades to identify and act upon. Today, not tomorrow, is the time to begin.
Currently there are 18 bills proposed in California solely pertaining to their water and sustainability.
One main issue that is a result of drought is the quickly disappearing wetlands and the affect of this on the livelihood and migration of many different species.
Wetlands and Bird Migration
Wetlands are one of the most important features on Earth. According to The Audubon Society, “Guidelines issued in 2007 by the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers could lead to a 50 percent loss of waters historically protected under the Clean Water Act, including fragile and endangered wetlands.” These bodies of water include inland waters such as lakes, rivers and marshes, coastal areas and estuaries, as well as mangroves and coral reefs offshore. They are a source of our daily water. Wetland climates are critical in the breeding and raising of fish and farming of rice. These areas are home to more than 100,000 freshwater plant and animal species and are critical to bird breeding and migration.
Wetlands are not only important to nature, but help protect and provide sustainable livelihoods and products to humans. The harmful fertilizers and pesticides used in farming can be purified and filtered from the water by wetlands. They also act as natural sponges, absorbing rainfall and creating wide pools to help safeguard against the extreme impacts of drought. Finally, managed wetlands are responsible for fishing, fisheries, timber, vegetable oil, medicinal plants, animal fodder and steams and leaves used for weaving.
Here is an infographic detailing the importance of wetlands.
The most prominent area of the United States that deals with issues due to wetlands disappearing is Louisiana. Over the last 80 years, they have lost around 2,000 square miles of coastal landscape. This is not only a problem to the many towns on the coast and people who depend on the wetlands for their livelihoods, but it also poses a large threat to the energy and shipping industries whom are vital to the United State’s economy. The state’s Act 544 that enforces management on the state and local coastal resources attempts to protect these area from businesses like oil or the construction of levees. Recently there was a suit filed against 97 oil and gas companies based on their actions in this area and how they have impacted the environment.
This is a serious issue; there are over 300 bills active pertaining wetlands this year.
Finally, the disappearance of wetlands affects all of the wildlife that depends on it for habitat, breeding and migration. This year California is paying rice farmers to keep their fields flooded longer in order to provide birds with more habitat during their migration. Only 15% of the typically available wetland habitat has survived the drought causing the state to create “pop-up habitats” in fields. The Nature Conservancy is spending somewhere in the six digit range to pay these farmers to keep their fields flooded to protect these birds.
Clean water is vital to every single American and species. Families should be able to turn on the tap and have safe drinking water, fish should be able to live in healthy, plentiful rivers, birds should be able to do their yearly migration without issue, and businesses need a steady supply of clean water to make products. Water is the most crucial part of humanity and Earth aside from oxygen, it is time we started protecting and preserving it.