Archive for Friday, March 1, 2013

Symposium: Climate change putting stress on Kansas water resources

March 1, 2013


The current drought gripping all of Kansas and much of the western United States may seem severe now, but it is not abnormal for a region that has seen cyclical droughts for much of the last 1,000 years.

What ought to concern Kansans more, a panel of experts said during a symposium Friday night at Kansas University, is the longer-term change in the region’s climate that will put greater demand on the state’s dwindling water resources.

“From a climate perspective, it looks like it’s going to get drier,” said Johannes Feddema, a climatologist and chairman of the KU geography department. “And the main reason is not so much the change in precipitation. It’s because it’s going to get warmer, which leads to more evaporation and transpiration.”

Feddema was one of seven experts in climate science, geology, agriculture and water policy who spoke at the symposium called “Beyond the Long Hot Summer: The Future of Water in Kansas.” The event was hosted by C-CHANGE, a research program at KU funded by the National Science Foundation.

Many of those who spoke said the changing climate will require farmers and other water users to adapt to those changes by reducing their demand for water. But so far, they said, that message has been slow to seep into many people’s minds.

Anthony Layzell, a doctoral student in geography and a research assistant at the Kansas Geological Survey, said the current drought is not yet on the scale of what Kansas saw in the early 1950s, which was the worst drought since official records have been kept, or the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, which was the second-worst.

But Layzell said his analysis of tree rings and other geological data show that three- to five-year droughts have occurred regularly in this area, dating back to the early 1700s. And going back further into the Middle Ages, he said, evidence shows cyclical droughts lasting 10 or even 50 years were not uncommon.

What appears to be happening now, Layzell said, is that droughts are happening at about the same frequency, about one or two severe ones per century, but they may be getting progressively more severe as the region bounces between periods of extreme drought or extreme wetness, with western Kansas being more drought-prone than the east, and the southern part of the state more drought prone than the north.

Aavudai “Anandhi” Swamy, who teaches agronomy at Kansas State University, presented research showing that growing seasons in much of Kansas are changing, with spring thaws coming earlier than they used to and the first fall freeze coming later. She concluded that farmers in certain regions of the state need to adjust their planting schedules, but they also need to think of ways to use less water, such as changing to different types of crops, or even to perennial crops that can hold moisture in the soil.

For years, state agencies in Kansas have been encouraging farmers to adapt their practices by shifting to dry land, or no-till farming, as well as changing to less water-intensive crops like grain sorghum instead of irrigated corn and wheat.

But Don Steeples, who teaches geophysics at KU and also farms about 2,500 acres in Rooks County in western Kansas, said farmers in that region are reluctant to switch to dry land or no-till farming for pure economic reasons.

“My brother, being an agricultural banker, sees their (no-till farmers) financial statements, and he says until he sees their financial statements looking better than they do now that they’re going to stay away from no-till,” Steeples said. “He refers to it as no-profit farming.”


Chris Golledge 1 year, 1 month ago

The average wheat yield per acre in Kansas is 40 bushels/acre; the average in Texas is 30 bushels per acre. Precipitation is not much different between the wheat growing regions of both states. What is different is that Texas gets many more days above 90 F during the growing season, and temperatures above the ideal for growth significantly reduce yields. Even if precipitation patterns don't change, and even if the Ogallala doesn't run out of economically extractable water, we are looking at a ~25% loss in yields as temperatures in Kansas become more like Kansas.


1957 1 year, 1 month ago

Climate has always been dynamic and always will be. It is pure hubris to think humans can change that.


Machiavelli_mania 1 year, 1 month ago

There are a few progressive clowns in Lawrence who think that W. Kansas is not interested in the water and aquifer issues. I am here to tell you, THAT is completely and absolutely WRONG. There was once an every-other-year symposium, the last one in Wichita in March '03, I think, called The Great Plains Foundation, whose sole purpose was to monitor and legislate issues regarding the Ogalala. Yes, there was a time when the GOP was greatly INTO conservation of resources.

Somehow, strangely, the abortion issue became more important to the more thoughtless GOP, ... probably because some clown from California came here, started Operation Rescue, and told everyone else what to think because he thought they could not think for themselves.


Machiavelli_mania 1 year, 1 month ago

Carla Stovall tried to get Colorado farmers to release water from their dams to help with the water situation along the Arkansas River. Six could have picked up this endeavor. Instead Six took on some ODD agenda by someone-not-kansan to work on Medicare fraud, probably Obama's idea. Needless to say, Six didn't get my vote. Seems like he really didn't care that much for Kansas and it's water issues. The Democrats cannot take this issue on and carry it without having egg on their face.


yourworstnightmare 1 year, 1 month ago

Kansas becomes more like Mississippi by the day.

Perennial crops = cotton.


none2 1 year, 1 month ago

A bit off topic, but a very interesting read on what one particular farmer in Australia did. The emphasis was to get away from plowing which helps remove moisture and soil fertility:


Curtis Lange 1 year, 1 month ago

It, obviously, has nothing to do with population increases. It's all big bad "climate change."


Starlight 1 year, 1 month ago

It was certainly asinine to grossly increase the amount of corn grown out west in what a very few years ago was the Dust Bowl. The biome is suitable for grass, aka wheat. The fossil water from the aquifer is the best I've ever drank. It's a damn shame to see it pumped dry to grow corn for the feedlots so they can save the cost of bringing the feed down from Nebraska. Building a water hog of a power plant out there will also negatively impact the aquifer. Damn greedy of Steeple's demanding more profit at the expense of environmental disaster that will doom the land under his stewardship. No-till should be enforced by law where profiteers like this refuse to practice tillage that preserves the land without huge inputs of irreplaceable water. Steeples is probably one of those wealthy welfare queens sucking up crop subsidies too.


blindrabbit 1 year, 1 month ago

The deniers have as their legislative champion the conservative religious whacko Committee Chairman Oklahoma Senator James Mountain Inhofe, a nut case if there ever was one. Interestingly, Inhofe denies all environmental science and attributes all to God's will, this while his home state (Oklahoma) has borne the brunt of Climate Changes, tornadoes, drought, prairie fires, unusual floods and just plain ignorance.


question4u 1 year, 1 month ago

Note to conspiracy theorists: roughly 2% of scientists are skeptical that climate change is influenced by human activity, but 0% of scientists are skeptical that climate change is occurring. To deny climate change you would have to argue that the Greenland ice sheet is not shrinking, that every satellite photograph is fake, and that by secret agreement of all the journalists in the world no one has broken the story. That's only one kind of data that you'd have to deny. There's more data than a single person could refute in multiple lifetimes, and you'd have to argue that it's all fake. Good luck finding any scientist who believes that.

The conspiracy that you want is the one that says that 98% of the scientists in the entire world, who claim to recognize that climate change is occurring and believe it to be highly likely that some of this change is influenced by human activity, are in fact lying and that only the 2% of skeptics, – many of whom, like Rep. Dennis Hedke, earn their livings from the oil, gas and coal industries – know the truth.

Since this article says nothing about the CAUSES of climate change, you'll need to wait to voice your conspiracy theories. Even the most ardent promoters of the oil, gas, and coal industries know not to make fools of themselves by claiming that the current drought is a fabrication of schemers in Washington. Blame it on whatever you want, even Martians or the Boy Scouts of America if that makes you happy, but if you claim that Kansas is not experiencing drought the only ones who will listen and not think you're crazy are your cats.


lawrenceguy40 1 year, 1 month ago

Liberal propaganda!

The liberal elite on the hill want you to believe their "science" so that their paymasters in Washington can control YOUR life. Today marked the beginning of the end for these welfare bums. Congress has at last begun to remove the teat that feeds them.


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