Path Home Shows 2014 Show Archive June 2014 Show 1426 Drought Buster?

Drought Buster?

Improving Oklahoma’s long-term drought will require above-normal rainfall for more than one season.
Drought Buster?

Drought Buster?

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Oklahoma Water Resources Board

Show Details

Show 1426: Drought Buster?
Air Date: June 29, 2014



Andy Barth: Well, Oklahoma is known for its wild weather. From severe thunderstorms to late freezes, the only thing predictable about our weather is that it’s unpredictable. And while we have seen a large amount of rain in the last two months, Oklahoma’s drought still lingers. Fourteen and a half percent of the state is in an exceptional drought, while nearly 50 percent is considered extreme, a problem climatologists say will take more than a few summer showers to remedy.

Andy: Water is a major issue in Oklahoma. Some have it; others don’t. An issue J.D. Strong with the Oklahoma Water Resources Board says has been around since before Oklahoma began.

J.D. Strong: Oklahoma in so many ways is really the crossroads of America. We’re where east meets west. And so in a lot of ways our water resources reflect that. Eastern Oklahoma has always been our area of abundant water supplies, and western Oklahoma has always been starved for water.

Andy: Resulting in a tug of war between eastern and western Oklahoma, a battle Strong believes mirrors those across the western states.

Strong: I think the obstacles we face are not any different than any other place on the planet, really. Folks are always concerned that if any water leaves their area that they’re gonna need it someday.

Andy: And while the drought has taken its toll on western Oklahoma farmers, as a whole, the state has received an average of 5 1/2 inches of rain in the last two months. And while many are glad to have the moisture, Regional Drought Information Coordinator Veva Deheza says too much water too fast may create more problems for farmers.

Veva Deheza: A lot of times we think water’s good when we’re in a drought, but if the water’s all coming in at one time, a lot of times our systems can’t handle it. Soils get oversaturated, you get flooding conditions, and flooding can be just as problematic for an ag producer, both on the cattle and the crop side, as no, as in no rain drought conditions. So it can wreak havoc on an agricultural producer.

Andy: Yet extreme dry and wet conditions are not the only thing plaguing Oklahoma agriculture. Deheza says climate change, while controversial, will affect the growing patterns of our staple food sources.

Deheza: If we are adding more days of 102-degree temperatures, if we are adding more nights of temperatures that are higher than 75 degrees, then we’re talking about the life cycle of the plants we have learned, we have grown to rely on for food crops – wheat, corn, sorghum, whatever else is grown in these regions in the Southern Plains. Those life cycles are being interrupted. They are being, there is hampering going on with when they go to seed, when they, when they hit certain stages of development. Those temperatures are vital. How those temperatures come in, how often we stay in those temperatures are vital to how those crops meet those benchmarks within their development phases that could cause problems for crops.

Andy: Something that Deheza says could change what and how farmers produce our food.

Deheza: We could be looking at needing to look at different types of crops, growing them in different ways, timing the growing of those crops. It could change how producers have been doing business for a long time.

Andy: And whether it’s water issues or climate change, both Strong and Deheza say we must get ready for a new normal.

Strong: We’re not quite prepared for the worst. And so I think going forward, it behooves us to work with our water providers and our water users across the state of Oklahoma to make sure we’re prepared for the worst.

Deheza: You still need to do the emergency planning, but we need to start looking at decisions and policies, regulatory institutional decisions – how we do business, how we operate reservoirs long-term. Because what we have considered to be the norm for climate and weather patterns is probably no longer going to be the norm. We’re not going to just see these random drought events. They will probably, their frequency and intensity will become part of our norm. Hence, we need to start shifting to looking at better ways to plan, better ways to become resilient to these events.

Andy: Now, folks within the agricultural community have differing opinions of the recently received rain. Cattle producers are thrilled because the grass cattle graze on is growing well. Wheat producers, on the other hand, struggle with the wet conditions because the crop must be dry in order to harvest it. However, Gary McManus with the National Weather Service says to improve long-term drought conditions it will require a multi-season, above-normal rainfall here in the Sooner State.