12.13.12Mark Hopkins

The Dust Bowl — Can It Happen Again?

Oklahoma Dust Storm

In the 1930’s the nation’s mid-section experienced one of the worst ecological disasters in American history.  The Dust Bowl  as the period was named, was a result of destruction of native plantings, poor farming practices and an extended period of drought. My Mom was a young girl, in central Oklahoma, during this period.  She recalls the family hanging wet sheets over the windows and doors at night, in order to breath. Each morning the linens would be completely brown due to the blowing dust.

 Are Current Drought Conditions A Sign Of Things To Come?

There is no denying that many sections of our country are still experiencing an extended drought.  In Texas trees are dying by the millions, in Colorado lakes have gone dry and if you look at the current drought map of the United States, it is evedent the areas affected are the same as in the Dust Bowl period. That’s a little scary.

Removal And Underuse Of Natural Sustainable Plant Material

A major factor contributing the Dust Bowl of the 1930s was the removal of natural prairie grass, which had adapted to reoccurring drought periods, and the introduction of non-native crops. Today many areas, which were originally open grass lands, are now thriving cities. These urban utopias are planted with a rainbow of plant varieties, most of which are not native to the area. Luckily extensive irrigation systems allow these green environments to survive. However, as cities grow and water use increases the reservoirs originally designed to meet the need are severely strained. Couple this reality with long-term drought and problems can arise. Keep in mind, the drought contributing to the Dust Bowl lasted more than 10 years.

Sustainable Landscapes and Irrigation Practices To The Rescue

Farmers adapted their methods, due to the lessons of the Dust Bowl and a repeat scenario of that portion is unlikely.  However, failure of urban residents to adapt will most certainly result in economic loss in the form of decreased water availability, increased costs and an abundance of dead plant material.  The good news is that sustainable, urban landscaping is possible, as well as, practical. Native plants are widely available and are a natural, long-term solution. Plants such as Texas sage, various salvias and native grasses were here long before we were. Smart watering practices such as drip irrigation and ET-based irrigation controllers can help make the most out of reduced supplies.  We may not be able to make it rain, but we can certainly make the most out of the water we have.

History Does Not Have To Repeat Itself

We should all learn from the hard-earned lessons of the past.  Through the careful, well-planned use of sustainable plants, coupled with prudent water conversation our urban environments shouldn’t suffer as did the farmland of our ancestors. While drought appears to be a current realty, we can work to control the impact and make our “farms” more resistant by taking a sustainable approach to landscaping.

Mark Hopkins

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Mark Hopkins

Mark is a veteran leader in the landscape and irrigation industry with over 35 years of commercial horticultural experience. As a licensed commercial irrigator, he has first-hand knowledge of the rapidly changing advancements in water technology. In his leadership role, with ValleyCrest’s National Sales Operations team, Mark is a resource for our local branch teams and customers alike.

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