Water shortages are now acute for agricultural, residential, commercial use, and what remains of industrial usage, in many regions of the United States, due to the decades of non-development of expanded sources. This is occurring despite the fact that water usage overall in the U.S. has declined in absolute volume, from 1980's level. It went from 482 million acre-feet per year (mafy) that year, down to 459 mafy in 2005.
Use of water for crop irrigation in the U.S. has been in decline for several years, but now, is drastically threatened in Texas and elsewhere. The U.S. is importing vast quantities of "virtual water" in the form of food, and also merchandise.
Over 40 percent of the total land area of the contiguous 48 states is experiencing some degree of drought, with the most-stricken parts of the nation being the Southwest, especially the west Texas farm and ranch region, through to the parched part of the Southeast. Northern Mexico remains a scene of desperation. (See online, the U.S. DroughtMonitor, May 1, 2012 map for depiction, posted yesterday here
The incidence and extent of wild fires is rising rapidly. In Colorado, for example, about 98 percent of the state was dry to some degree as of April, and multiple fires have broken out.
Just the local farm media's headline-stories this week paint the dire drought picture for agriculture and the food supply.
Drought is severe across Georgia, Alabama, and North Florida. In Jackson County, northern Alabama, for example, lack of rainfall has essentially halted Spring planting. The dryness has made it easy to harvest whatever Winter wheat crop there is, but the general farming conditions are dire.
Most U.S. peanuts are grown in Georgia and West Texas, both in drought. The 2011 U.S. peanut crop was over 20 percent less than the year before. Last week Georgia growers (accounting for 45 percent of the entire U.S. crop normally), after a slight rain, rushed to put in peanuts, because soil moisture is required for germination. They hope it works, and hope they can then irrigate, despite rainfall rates 50 percent below normal, and falling aquifer levels.
In the Southwest, severe dry conditions persist for farming and ranching throughout the region west of a north-south line running from Wichita, Kansas, through Ft. Worth, down through Houston. Ranchers are still having to provide supplemental feeding for what cattle they still have, after last year's drought debacle, because there is next to no pasture. A state agriculture extension service agent reported, in the Cattle Drover (May 1, www.cattlenet.com), "we watch plants on shallow soils turn brown from lack of water. It has been 30 days since our last significant rain event."
The Drover reported further, that wildfires have broken out. One burned 12,000 acres in Brewster County. "There were also lightning-caused fires in Presidio County. The continung drought raised the specter of further herd sell-offs. Cotton farmers were planting, but in many areas, planted acreage was expected to be reduced because of the lack of surface water for irrigation... Supplemental feeding of cattle remained a constant expense for ranchers that still have stock."
Water use in general is threatened. The latest weekly report to the Texas Drought Preparedness Council, shows that 1,035 community water districts, out of a total of 4,705 in the state, are under a "watch" for low water, or restricted use orders —voluntary or mandatory. In San Marcos (pop. 26,000), for example, northeast of San Antonio, early-stage drought restrictions go into effect May 7, after the Edwards Aquifer (supplying the town) dropped 19 feet in the past 30 days.