Since the spring of 2010, the United States has been experiencing conditions of a major drought. Drought conditions have been expanding throughout the Great Plains and the Midwest, and only nine U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, are not considered to be suffering from water scarcity. Professor Ryan Mathur, chair of Juniata’s geology department, discusses this major phenomenon.
Why do you think a drought this widespread is not more nationally discussed?
If you look at the weather maps, a majority of the United States is under average in total rainfall. The overall drought is significant, but it’s not greatly impacting money or crops yet. Once things go up in cost, you’ll start to hear more about it.
What causes a drought like this to occur?
There are lots of things that can impact drought conditions. There are things that impact droughts greatly, like the climate or how we cultivate the land. There’s not one ultimate answer. We can look at the 1930s Dust Bowl, which clearly had to do with how the fields were being cultivated. They pulled too much water from the land. Now we have different land use practices, but obviously we still have a demand, which can still impact water scarcity.
Do you think there could be any long-lasting consequences of the drought?
Certain droughts have led us to do certain things differently, like in the case of the Dust Bowl. With larger droughts, usually there is some impact that is examined, and changes might be made based off of that impact.
What are some of the more obvious and immediate effects?
Certain droughts will impact certain types of plants, for instance. When a drought impacts where we get our wheat, all of those prices will start to go up. People will start to panic when the price of cereal becomes more expensive. That’s when people will start to be concerned. The consequences depend on what we’re growing and where.
What are some ways people react to large-scale droughts?
There are specific drought practices. They might shut down car washes, and limit the amount of water people use. There will be regulations and suggestions on how to use water. For example, there might be limits placed on things like watering lawns or filling swimming pools, and industries that use a lot of water might be charged more for it.
-Kelsey Molseed, ’14, Juniata Online Journalist