News Notes

Budget cuts for geoscience programs
In early April, President Bush released his budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins in October. The president’s request to Congress focuses on campaign pledges to boost defense, education and biomedical research spending, and to provide a large tax cut. But the administration also aims to limit growth in federal funding, so these increases are offset by decreases in most other programs.
The U.S. Geological Survey would receive $813 million, an 8.7-percent cut from the current fiscal year, with water programs losing 21 percent. Petroleum and natural gas-related research at the Department of Energy faces cuts of over 50 percent. The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive $4.47 billion, a 1.3-percent increase, but the NSF Geoscience Directorate would receive 0.6 percent less than it did this year, with no funding for the Earthscope initiative. Other geoscience-related agencies and programs face flat funding or cuts. Next month’s Political Scene will provide more information on the president’s request. For more details, visit

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

As 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 the planet.
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.

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