Drought in Panhandle is worse than in 1930's Dust Bowl

Experts say drought conditions here in the Panhandle and in four other southern plains states are just as bad, if not worse, than the infamous 1930â??s Dust Bowl.

â??The drought is very serious. Whenever you take the last six months, weâ??ve seen very little rain, and there is no sub-moisture in the ground at all. So itâ??s at record proportions at this point in the growing season for the farmers,â?? said C.E. Williams, general manager for the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation.

The only thing standing between the present day drought and a repeat of the past are the advances in groundwater and soil conservation.

â??Back in the dust bowl days, there wasnâ??t any irrigation or use of groundwater. Groundwater came ingo being in the mid-50â??s in this part of the region and irrigation technology has improved through time to where they use very efficient irrigation systems now,â?? said Williams.

However, even with the new technology and methods for conservation, the drought is still a serious matter and cause of concern. In some, areas of the panhandle, as much as thirty to forty percent of the precious groundwater has been used.

â??Groundwater in this part of the world recharges very slow and we were fortunate to have a lot back in the 50â??s, but weâ??ve used quite a bit. We have a goal, in the district, of not using more than fifty percent of the water in the next fifty years. Because it is a depleting resource,â?? said Williams. â??The best anoalogy I can come up with is, itâ??s like a bank account. No matter how big it is, you take out dollar bills and put in pennies, and thereâ??s an end to that road.â??

On another side of conservation in the Panhandle is soil conservation working to keep as much soil on the ground for successful crops as possible, instead of blowing in the air for another dust storm.

â??Everyone whoâ??s involved in purchasing groceries, theyâ??re also involved in agriculture because you canâ??t east what you canâ??t grow. So, soil erosion is a handicap for everything, for the food that you need for normal life. So everyone has the same interest in controlling soil erosion,â?? said Dr. R. Louis Baumhardt, a research soil scientist for USDA.

He described the difference in methods of tilling the land now versus the Dust Bowl era and said back in the 1930â??s, the understanding of production practices were not suited for the area.

â??Back then we were doing high intensity, high frequency tillage. It would basically grind it up into a fine dust,â?? said Baumhardt. â??Nowadays our management is to conserve the soil residue, or the residue leftover from crops holding down the soil and helping with irrigation.â??

These techniques in tilling in an integrated system leave bigger chunks of soil, which are heavier and less likely to blow around in a dust storm. But experts said even the ways that used to consistently work are starting to be futile with this drought and said they must now experiment with new techniques if rain does not come soon.