Water woes for farmers
The West Coast has been steeling itself for what the Bureau of Reclamation in Klamath, Ore., calls a critically dry year. On April 6, the bureau announced that 90 percent of the farmers in the Klamath Basin of southern Oregon would not receive any water from the Klamath Water Project. The Project includes Klamath Lake and the Klamath River, which flows through Oregon and into California before combining with the Trinity River and pouring into the Pacific Ocean. The 10 percent of farmers who will receive water live on the eastern side of the basin where the Clear Creek offshoot of the Lost River provides supplemental water.
As of early April — the end of the typical rainy season — Bureau of
Reclamation officials in charge of the Klamath Basin Water Project predicted
that this season will be one of the one of the driest since the Project
was established in 1907. Never before have farmers gone without any water,
says Jeffrey McCracken of the Mid-Pacific Bureau of Reclamation. There
are typically 500,000 acre-feet of water to be distributed to regional
farmers. But the combination of drought conditions and environmental regulations
that require lake and river water levels to be maintained for salmon and
suckerfish habitats has resulted in what could be the worst year in the
Project’s 94-year history.
Feeding the future
the world’s population grows larger and wealthier, agricultural lands will
necessarily grow. In the April 13 Science, ecologists explain that
as the world struggles to feed its hungry population it may slowly choke
Agricultural growth taxes the environment — the industry releases large amounts of nitrogen and phosphates, saps freshwater supplies and converts natural ecosystems. While none of these problems can be entirely avoided, we need to take steps to minimize its deleterious effects on the global environment, explains David Tilman of the University of Minnesota and his Science co-authors.
Based on changes over the past 40 years in world population, gross domestic product, nitrogen and phosporous fertilizer usage, pesticide production and imports, and measurements of global pasture and crop lands, the study authors forecast how these variables will change in the coming half-century. They project that nitrogen and phosphates will increase 2.4 to 2.6 fold — spurring eutrophication of terrestrial, freshwater and near-shore marine ecosystems. Without better land management techniques, they say, 10 trillion hectares of natural ecosystem will become agricultural land by the year 2050.
Further research and application of existing knowledge could retard environmental degredation, but even the best available technologies — present or future — cannot prevent many of the forecasted problems. Tilman and colleagues call for improved regional forecasts and predictions based on mechanistic models.