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Policy Shop / Demos Blog

Extreme Drought Continues, Could be Most Extreme Weather Event This Year

It's been overshadowed by other extreme weather events recently, but the extreme drought that plagued the U.S. this summer continues. In fact, according to the Drought Monitor, conditions have worsened slightly across the country. The extreme drought is likely to extend through February and could be the most extreme weather event in the U.S. this year, which is saying a lot in a year that saw a superstorm flood large swaths of New York City and knock out power to millions of people.

Beyond the millions of dollars in lost agricultural yield, the extreme drought threatens the Ogallala Aquifer, the single most important water source in the High Plains regions.  A commentator on Climate Progress pointed out that the areas that are suffering from the most severe drought overlap with the Aquifer. As shown below, the overlap is substantial.



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This means that the groundwater supply for large swaths of Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas are at risk. But, extreme drought isn’t the only thing that is threatening the Ogallala. As we pointed out earlier, if the Keystone XL pipeline is built, it will cross the Aquifer and based on past performance, an oil spill is all but guaranteed in the area. The threat of pipeline spills poisoning the water supply is so great that the Republican governor of Nebraska wrote to the Obama Administration to ask them to deny the pipeline’s permit.

While the full pipeline permit was denied earlier this year, the Administration backed building the southern portion of the pipeline and construction began on it in August. Given that the northern section is already built—and has already spilled 20,000 gallons of oil--  it’s obvious that construction on the southern portion virtually guarantees that the full pipeline will be built.

This move does nothing to bring us closer to energy independence and sets us far back in the fight against climate change. There is no guarantee that any oil brought down through the pipeline will stay in the U.S. Plus, tar sands mining is notoriously destructive and ramping up oil production does nothing to bring us closer to a new energy future.

The threat of spills from the pipeline, combined with the continued extreme drought, does not bode well for the future of the Ogallala or the future of groundwater supplies for millions of people.

J. Mijin Cha

J. Mijin Cha is the Associate Director of PolicyLink where she works in the 'Equity as a Superior Growth Model' program. Prior to PolicyLink, Mijin worked at Dēmos, where she authored several reports on money in politics, voting reforms, and new measures of economic progress. She has also spent several years working on environmental justice and green economy policy issues internationally and domestically.

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