As a native of the U.S.’s sixth-snowiest community (Lead, by the way), I’ve always looked forward to Christmastime snow. So I’m perhaps one of few South Dakotans who’s objecting to the weather lately, with its temperatures more like September than December. But I know at least that South Dakota’s farmers are with me in hoping for rain, snow, or any precipitation at all for that matter.
But as the Capitol Journal (via the Associated Press) reported on Friday, SD’s drought is only getting worse:
The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday shows that 62.7 percent of the land in the lower 48 states was in some form of drought as of Tuesday, up from 60.1 percent the previous week. The area in extreme or exceptional drought — the two worst classifications — also rose, to 20.12 percent from last week’s 19.04 percent…
The amount of South Dakota in those two classifications rose more than 8 percentage points to 63.32 percent, reflecting the fact that rainfall from south-central Nebraska northward to mid-South Dakota has been less than 25 percent of normal over the past three months.
After a summer in which farmers watched helpless as their corn dried up in the heat and their soybeans became stunted, many are now worrying about their winter wheat…
In Kansas, the nation’s top wheat producer, 97 percent of the latest crop has germinated, but one-quarter of those plantings are considered poor or very poor. The situation is far worse in South Dakota, where intensifying conditions have allowed just 60 percent of its winter wheat to emerge, with nearly two-thirds of that crop rated in those two worst classifications.
This drought isn’t just hurting farmers; it’s hitting SD hunters hard too, as game populations drop due to inadequate water supplies. So under some of the worst drought conditions in decades, it only makes sense that Powertech (USA) Inc. is looking pump as much as 9,000 gallons per minute from West River aquifers to in-situ leach (ISL) mine uranium near Edgemont – a process with which it has exactly zero experience. What could go wrong?
The editorial board of the Rapid City Journal, who freely admit to having no problem with uranium mining in principle, certainly had their misgivings, as they laid out in yesterday’s paper:
Before we give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the Dewey Burdock project, we have a few questions… The process involves removing water from the Madison aquifer and injecting it into the formation containing the uranium. How safe is this process in terms of possibly polluting the Madison or nearby water wells? … Are the aquifers capable of replenishing that much water during a drought? What happens to the extracted water and waste ore after the uranium is removed?
Good questions, especially from a paper whose reporting on the proposed Dewey Burdock mine hasn’t always been fair and balanced. SD is already facing water shortages. If the Powertech project goes ahead, we might well be staring down the barrel (no pun intended) of a full-on crisis.