The Great Plains: Less water, more heat. Can citizens adapt?

The Great Plains is where a large amount of our food is grown for consumption and export. “Agriculture, ranching, and natural lands, already under pressure due to an increasingly limited water supply, are very likely to also be stressed by rising temperatures.” (

13-greatplains-pg123_topMost of the land (70%)  is used for “producing wheat, hay, corn, barley, cattle, and cotton.” The forecast, however, is for a drastically changing climate that could cause more disaster for the nation and the world. So farmers must adapt with a play book and hope for the right combination. They must try and achieve the right crop mix that will work with a hotter environment and less water.  And hope that the next year’s environment won’t change for the next year’s planting. An increase in CO2 levels can make the temperatures rise. It will make plants grow faster. But it will also make some weeds flourish  and allow some pests to survive. So farmers in the Great Plains, which covers over 70 percent of the region, must adapt to soaring heat levels and a growing water shortage to the end of this century. Basically, they must continue experimenting with crop selections and mixes to deal with heat and drought, plus pests and a moving agricultural zone (more rainfall) that is moving north. Click for larger image.

Dealing with a climate change that has a constantly changing playbook means luck has a big part:

“Successful adaptations will require diversification of crops and livestock, as well as transitions from irrigated to rain-fed agriculture. Producers who can adapt to changing climate conditions are likely to see their businesses survive, some might even thrive. Others, without resources or ability to adapt effectively, will lose out.” (, page 126 )

That is not exactly a ringing endorsement for success when governments and corporations have apparently put off serious global efforts to stop the levels of greenhouse gases from rising. Corporations remain determined to keep the economy at full speed ahead and keep those new 2 billion more consumers happy. The problem is that we don’t have the resources to make it happen over the next 4 decades. Or beyond that.

Ogallala Aquifer:

Ogallala Aquifer
Ogallala Aquifer

One problem is that the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies the water for the farmers on the Great Plains, has been drawing down as a result of high irrigation demands for crops and cattle. In addition, the population is growing in the towns and cities and demanding more water for living and business. As of now there is no plan for saving water  by using good management and coordination between farms and people. “Some geologists fear…” that the aquifer “…could dry up in as soon as 25 or 30 years.”

Farmers of the Great Plains are considering and planning ways to divert that water to use for their farm needs. Growing towns and cities are also in the mix for more water for their citizens and they are looking to the Ogallala Aquifer too. Towns will be subject to the heat much more than those in rural areas. The “urban heat island” effect, with a possible future high double digit increase in temperature rise by the end of the century, will be multiplied by the concrete and steel buildings plus the toxic traffic pollution that every city has.

“Heat islands occur on the surface and in the atmosphere. On a hot, sunny day, the sun can heat dry, exposed urban surfaces, such as roofs and pavement, to temperatures 50-90F degrees (27-50C) hotter than the air, while shaded or moist surfaces-often in rural surroundings-remain close to air temperatures. Surface urban heat islands are typically present day and night, but tend to be strongest during the day when the sun is shining.”

“Most of these growing centers can be found in the southern parts of the region, where water resources are already seriously constrained. Urban populations, particularly the young, elderly, and economically disadvantaged, may also be disproportionately affected by heat.”  (, p.128)

I lived in such an environment as a child and almost suffocated one week when the heat was beyond breathable. I could feel the particles of pollution pinging off my face. The floor fan (no AC) made it worse. The towns and cities in the Great Plains will not be habitable by many people.  Over the next 38 years as the climate deteriorates, food and water will be in short supply with over 2 billion more people on the earth to feed. The United States will have between 138-200 million more people, mostly immigrants from Mexico.

When the water and food are gone, you don’t add 200 million people to your nation.

When the water and food are gone, you don't add 200 million more people to your nation.
When the water and food are gone, you don’t add 200 million more people to your nation.

Many new immigrants will initially settle in the Southwest and in the cities of the Great Plains area where they will be exposed to heat beyond the ability of many to survive. The death rate will be large because the only solution is to leave for a milder climate plus air-conditioning. Another solution is to not let in anymore people. To do the bidding of corporate America for cheap labor would be a crime when our “leaders” know they don’t have (don’t want) the jobs for any more (American) workers. And they surely know that the water will be gone when the immigration doors are opened and the crops also fail.

They can’t be that stupid, can they? So far, they have. It’s the greed gene. It makes those with it ignore common sense.

So far Alaska is the only place I’ve found that would merit a safe haven from the horror that is already becoming manifest globally and certainly in the United States. The President and Congress are simply fanning the fire.

The Great Plains are not a good place to settle down for the rest of this century. And beyond. Definitely stay away from the Southwest U.S.  and the Great Plains.

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