The Western United States has been suffering from a drought for approximately 15 years, which has particularly impacted California's groundwater and reservoirs. Communities and farmers in California are facing a future with less water.
The Western United States has been facing a long-term, "mega-drought" for approximately 15 years. Some farmers in the California's Central Valley, the country's most productive agricultural region, have responded by selling land or cutting back on farmed acreage, while others dig deeper wells to maintain crop yields. Groundwater in the area has significantly diminished due to over-use. According to National Geographic, scientists warn that this drought will likely worsen in time, transitioning to a "35-year or longer" mega-drought impacting much of the West.
The last mega-drought to hit the United States began in 1934 and lasted ten years. Now referred to as "the dust bowl," that drought impacted three-quarters of the Western United States. Caused by weather patterns, its impacts were exacerbated by farmers who removed the native grasses, which are known for their long and thick roots, to plant crops that were not drought resistant.* These thinly rooted crops failed with the lack of rainfall, leaving dusty fields behind. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), approximately 50,000,000 acres of land were affected by that drought. The human and socio-political impacts were significant, creating the largest migration event in U.S. history, as people fled the area. By 1940, 2.5 million people had left the plains states, 200,000 of those went to California.**
The short film, When a Town Runs Dry, by Joris Debeij, explores the current drought through the eyes of three residents—a farmer, shopkeeper, and a high school football coach—living in the small farming town of Stratford, California. All three men lament the loss of a way of life dependent on a consistent supply of water, and prepare for an uncertain future.
Connections to National Standards
Common Core English Language Arts. SL.11-12.1.c. Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies Standards. D2.Geo.9.9-12. Evaluate the influence of long-term climate variability on human migration and settlement patterns, resource use, and land uses at local-to-global scales.
Next Generation Science Standards. HS-LS2-7. Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.