Valley News – Dartmouth expert draws lessons from drought

HANOVER – Smoke from forest fires brought hazy skies and polluted air to the Upper Valley this summer, but it was also a harbinger of other drought-related issues the Upper Valley residents have should consider in a warming climate.

That’s according to Justin Mankin, an assistant professor of geography at Dartmouth College, who heads a drought task force for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which recently released a report on the mega-drought in the Southwest which has taken cascading effects across the country. .

“The fact that this drought has really had such an impact in the West really makes us realize that we are not well adapted to the climate we have now, let alone the climate which continues to change with greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse, ”Mankin said. in an interview on Monday. “There is a need to integrate resilience measures at the local, state and federal levels. “

One of the “takeaways” from NOAA’s analysis in the West is that living in a humid climate does not exclude the risk of drought, Mankin warned. Like the Northeast, Oregon and Washington have high rainfall rates compared to other areas, but they also suffer from persistent drought. Further oscillations between extreme precipitation are likely in the northeast, he said.

“We have long built infrastructure to iron out spatio-temporal inconsistencies in water availability, from the Roman aqueducts to the Wilder Dam,” Mankin said. “One of the things to think about is the current resilience of our infrastructure to rapid fluctuations in wet and dry weather. “

He said the North East needs to be “forward thinking to adapt to climate impacts”. In particular, he advocated to look to communities in the West who already face extreme weather conditions and put policies in place. Yet a drought in Vermont and New Hampshire is very different from a drought in the west: Droughts in the northeast affect a much smaller geographic area and don’t last as long.

“But we are competing for the same resources,” Mankin said. “It is important for the people of Vermont and the people of New Hampshire to ask what it is like to compete for resources to manage the impacts of drought at the local level when it is not a problem. front page article. “

The economic impacts of the drought have reverberated across the country, although they do not take into account domestic food price inflation.

“We live in an interconnected economy, and there are many goods and services that support life here in the East,” Manking said. “There are disruptions spreading through our economy. “

Some economists have said harvests have worked well in the Midwest this summer. However, the drought further west has impacted everything from alfalfa and almonds to tomatoes and wheat, according to the California Farm Water Coalition. He has pressured farmers to bulldoze water-hungry crops such as wine grapes and fruits and leave thousands of acres of farmland fallow for the season. Another half a million acres will likely be out of productive farmland over the next 20 years, said Mike Wade, who heads the coalition.

Particular special crops – like the “processing tomato” – have been hit hard, Wade said. These tomatoes become salsa, canned tomatoes and tomato paste. Some wholesale prices almost doubled between January and April, he said. California expects intense oscillations in wet and dry precipitation and Wade is hopeful that, if passed, the infrastructure bill could give California farmers an infrastructure to store water from wet years during the seasons. dry years.

Producers face devastating economic consequences due to extreme droughts, but their struggles are a small factor in the larger problem of food inflation, said Seth Meyer, chief economist in the US Department of Agriculture. However, the supply of some specialty crops, like the spring wheat used in many artisan breads, has been impacted as almost all of them are grown in the West.

“We have transportation issues, supply chain issues, labor issues – these things outweigh the impacts of drought on food prices,” he said. Farmers’ profits are only a small percentage of the price of a given food product. In the northeast, farmers could benefit indirectly from lower production in California, he said.

In the near future, the economic impacts of the mega-drought could worsen, Mankin said.

“How do we economically continue to manage this drought as an acute crisis when it becomes a long-term drag on resources? ” He asked.

Water accumulated in reservoirs and emergency water conservation measures helped mitigate the worst impacts of drought in southern California. Often, winter brings rain and snowmelt to the west. But Mankin said weather models indicate the region will not experience a rainy winter, which could make the problem worse.

Claire Potter is a member of the Report for America Corps. She can be reached at or 603-727-3242.

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