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As Farms Bite the Dust, "Megadrought" May Be the New Normal in the Southwest

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Organic Transitions page and our New Mexico page.
 
In a dirt parking lot near Many Farms, Arizona, a Navajo farmer sold me a mutton burrito. He hasn't used his tractor in two years, he told me, and is cooking instead of farming because "there isn't any water." He pointed east at the Chuska mountain range, which straddles the New Mexico border. In a normal year, water coming off the mountains reaches his fields, he said. 

But this might be the new normal for the American Southwest, writes William deBuys in his new book, A Great Aridness. It was published late last year, months after one of the Southwest's driest summers in recorded history, during which fires of unprecedented size scorched hundreds of thousands of acres of forest. This summer is worse than last; forest fires have already broken last year's records. The rains haven't come, and temperature records are falling like leaves from a dried-up tree. Springs, wells and irrigation ditches are bone dry. Farms are withering. We've all heard the gloomy scenarios of global warming: extreme weather, drought, famine, breakdown of society, destruction of civilization.

My current perch in Placitas, New Mexico feels like a front-row seat to the apocalypse. 

Intuitive as the connection may seem, we don't know if the current drought is a consequence of global warming, deBuys writes. Periodic, decades-long droughts have been relatively common in the last few thousand years, according to analysis of dried lake beds. Most of the area's famously collapsed civilizations--Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, the Galisteo pueblos--are thought to have died out for lack of water in these extended dry periods, which deBuys calls "megadroughts."  


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