Environment Kitchen Garden

Climate Changed Locally


RURAL CEDAR TOWNSHIP— A co-worker was asked when the last rain fell. The answer was July. In a community supported agriculture project, there is no option other than to irrigate when drought comes, and that means a series of hydrants spread throughout the farm, and frequent draws on the underground reservoirs. So far, there has been enough water.

In the list of 2014 legislative priorities recently sent to our state representative, I wrote the following paragraph,

Once again Iowa was short on rainfall, especially the last 6-8 weeks. If the dry weather and drought continues, there will be pressure to irrigate row crops in a place where traditionally we have had enough rainfall to do without. In late July, I traveled to Chicago and along Interstate 88 they are already irrigating corn. Water use will be a key issue for Iowa going forward, and if irrigation of Iowa corn and beans starts, I’m not sure how management would be structured, but more attention to water use would be needed. The legislature should play a role, in evaluating the science, and taking appropriate preventive action. Evaluating the science doesn’t mean just calling the folks at Farm Bureau, asking for an opinionaire from their members.

That there is a connection between human activity, climate change and the current drought can be a matter of some discussion in Iowa. For the most part, industrial agricultural producers see the climate changing, but do not attribute it to anthropogenic origins. It is just another thing to deal with while farming. Those of us more familiar with the science of climate change see the direct connection. The two positions haven’t yet been reconciled.

June 2013 was the 340th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. 2012 was the 36th consecutive year with a global temperature above the 20th century average. On a local level, here in Cedar Township, this translates into wanting rain and wondering what would happen if the well runs dry. The answer to that question, is farmers may give up, especially small scale local producers like the one where I work.

There is a connection between the global climate crisis and extreme weather events like this year’s drought. As global CO2 levels have increased above 400 parts per million, global temperatures rose in tandem. As temperatures increase, the atmosphere can hold more water vapor. This makes rainfall and flooding more frequent and intense like spring 2013 was in our area.

The effect of global warming, and the hydrological cycle’s absorption of water vapor, also creates longer intervals between rainfalls, making droughts even worse. Because of the atmosphere’s increased capacity for hold water vapor, the land can become parched without irrigation.

People who live from the land, have to do something, and in Iowa we have relied upon abundant rainfall to grow crops without irrigation. As climate changes, that means considering how to make the land productive absent the conditions that led us to be what we are. It requires us to to adapt to the changing climate, and take action to mitigate the causes of this year’s flooding and drought. Before we begin large scale irrigation, Iowa should consider the consequences of increased water usage.

Locally, the climate changed, when we least needed or expected it. There is little to do now, other than adapt and mitigate the human causes of climate change.