It's half a globe away and far from our attention, but our colleagues in Australia are looking at the Mother of All Droughts.
John Howard, Australia's prime minister, arrived here in February and urged the four states through which the Murray-Darling flows to hand their authority over the river to the federal government. After seven years of drought, and many more years of over-exploitation and pollution, he argued that the only hope of restoring the river to health lies in a complete overhaul of how it is managed. As the states weigh the merits of Mr Howard's scheme, the river is degenerating further. Every month hydrologists announce that its flow has fallen to a new record low (see chart). In April Mr Howard warned that farmers would not be allowed to irrigate their crops at all next year without unexpectedly heavy rain in the next few months. A region that accounts for 40% of Australia's agriculture, and 85% of its irrigation, is on the verge of ruin. [More]I suppose we could entertain a little shameful shadenfreude, especially if you grow wheat, but this disaster becoming almost biblical in scope. And in its wake, a new pattern of water allocation will likely emerge that could presage similar outcomes in other water-short areas.
All water use from the Murray-Darling other than for domestic needs will be banned from July 1 and there will not be enough water for environmental flows or allocations to irrigation. The report recommends further battle plans to make sure towns do not run out of drinking water. These include the suspension of the usual water-sharing deals between the states and examining whether Snowy Hydro Ltd could release water from the Snowy River to help the Murray-Darling. [More]In the western US - not to mention other places - a similar situation could arise. My own thought is democracy will override the legal precedence of water law and deliver the fluid to the people. And the West is going to have the people.
But the booming South and West regions show some of the most dramatic environmental stresses, according to the report. For example, the four fastest-growing states -- Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah -- all have areas of acute water shortages. [More]It may not be acres that places the final limit on ag production in the US.
It could be water.