Drought in the Southeast: Can We Blame Climate Change?

Published on October 4th, 2009 | by

The 2005-2007 drought in the Southeast was bad but was neither unprecedented nor necessarily caused by global warming from climate change, according to a recent study released form Columbia University.

“At the root of the water supply problem in the Southeast [United States] is a growing population,” according to the report

Photo Credit: mjn9Sweetwater Creek Campground in Georgia during the 2007 Drought.
Sweetwater Creek Campground in Georgia during the 2007 drought.

Georgia’s population rose from 6.48 million in 1990 to 9.54 million in 2007. So what do the researcher recommend? Increasing water storage options to temper the effects of drought.

“I am not going to criticize any governments for what they did or did not do. But if you have more people and the same amount of water storage, you are going to increase the impact of droughts,” said Douglas LeComte, drought specialist at the Climate Prediction Center of the National Weather Service.

A recent report from the World Health Organization about population growth and climate change encouraged developed nations to make contraceptives available to developing nations as a way to encourage family planning and control population growth. While 95% of worldwide population growth until 2050 is expected to occur in developing nations, it seems population growth is an issue the U.S. will need to consider as well- something seldom discussed.

Columbia University researchers added that La Niña and El Niño do not have much of an effect on weather patterns in the Southeast and that droughts of varying intensities “arise from internal atmospheric processes and is essentially unpredictable.”

The Southeast may be running into similar issues as the American West. John Wesley Powell led expeditions down the Colorado and Green Rivers in the late 1800’s for the federal government and made recommendations based on what he saw there. He recommended that the West not be used for agricultural development, except maybe the areas near the water sources- why? Not enough water. Railroad companies and politicians thought otherwise and encouraged farmers to move to the West, basing their policies on the preposterous “rain follows the plow” theory. The farmers tried to live in an area where there wasn’t enough water and it didn’t work- the rain did not follow their plows.

Point being: More water will not arrive in the Southwest United States as the population increases. What we are calling a drought is actually typical of how much water the region receives. If the population continues to rise, there will be less and less of the most precious resource- water.

The big question is: Will the U.S. need to start worrying about population growth, whether or not climate change increases the intensity and frequency of droughts? It’s looking that way.

[Research and quotes from New York Times]


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