Over the Holidays I had the opportunity to read a great book recommended to me by a professor of urban planning economics. Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl is a fascinating look at one of the country’s greatest environmental disasters. The dust storms that ravaged the high plains throughout the 1930’s brought death and destructions to thousands of Americans who moved to the area over the previous 50 years to take advantage of cheap land and soaring wheat prices.
You may have heard of the American dust storms before but Egan’s tale brings these storms to light in new and horrifying ways. Dust storms would black out the sun for days on end as people huddled in shelters. At times the air was so full of dust that candles could not get enough air to stay lit. Children walking home from school were literally suffocated to death by clouds of dust. Men could not shake hands because static electricity built up in the clouds of dust to the point where touching another person could knock them off their feet and barbed wire fences hummed with an electric blue glow as storms approached. Thousands died of dust pneumonia as the silica-laden dust particles scarred their lungs until they could not longer function. This really was the worst hard time. Continue reading The Ogallala Aquifer and the Worst Hard Time
Winters in Plant City, Florida can be a scary time of year. When the temperature drops below freezing, the strawberries in this self-proclaimed “winter strawberry capital of the world” get rowdy. Roads begin to buckle, schools are closed, and homes are swallowed up by the earth. The culprit? Sinkholes. Sinkholes caused by the 8,000 acres of strawberry fields surrounding the city.
Under normal circumstances, fields of strawberries are quite harmless. The problems start when near-freezing temperatures threaten the crop and farmers turn on the sprinklers. As the water freezes on the plants, it releases just enough energy to keep the plants themselves from freezing. That’s the risk of growing strawberries in Florida in winter; if the temperature drops too low you could lose your entire crop. Freezing that many strawberries, however, takes a lot of water — a lot more than you might think.
The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida says that each acre of berries needs 6,800 gallons an hour to coat crops in a protective layer of ice. That means a 20-acre farm can use 3.2 million gallons — the equivalent of five Olympic-size swimming pools — in 24 hours. It’s about the same amount of water used by the 32,000 residents of Plant City in a single day. With 8,000 acres of strawberries to cover in a 110-square mile area around the city, that’s over one billion gallons of water per day. [Source]
This past January the city got 11 straight days of near-freezing temperatures. Farmers ran sprinklers night and day with only occasional breaks. Billions of gallons of water were sucked up from the Floridian aquifer beneath the town. Pumping that much water out of the ground at once destabilizes the already sinkhole-prone Florida landscape. Sinkholes began appearing overnight in seemingly random locations around town.
Continue reading Strawberries Threaten to Destroy City