Ken Burns’ documentary, “The Dust Bowl,” has been getting high praise, and deservedly so.
It also ought to send a chill to the descendants of those who lived through that terrible era in the 1930s.
The documentary, which can be seen online at kacv.org, talks about how High Plains residents plowed the native grasslands into cultivated farmland. The result ruined the ecosystem — and when drought descended on the region in the early 1930s, the soil erosion brought enormous hardship to millions of Americans living in the Panhandle and throughout the High Plains. Check out the PBS documentary online, see it for yourself and you get the picture.
But a back story of the documentary deals with water. Have we learned the lessons that the Dust Bowl brought to the region, most notably are we doing enough to research ways to grow crops in a fashion that consumes much less water than they do now?
Municipal authorities are doing their part in alerting residents about wasting water. They recommend watering lawns on certain days; they urge residents to curb car-washing; fix those leaky faucets, they implore us. That’s all fine.
But irrigated agriculture gulps about 90 percent of all groundwater from the Ogallala Aquifer. All those corn and cotton crops are consuming a lot of water every single growing season. And the aquifer isn’t recharging at a rate that keeps pace with the water being used. The region’s economic infrastructure cannot survive without water. It’s that simple … and that dire.
What are we going to do about it?
The Dust Bowl of 70-plus years ago is fading from many people’s memories. Those who lived during that time are old now. They won’t be with us forever. It falls, then, on those who remain here to remain aware of the hardships their forebears endured.
And it all turns on a single five-letter word: water.