Boom and Bust on the Great Plains: Déjà Vu All Over Again
Creighton Law Review, Vol. 41, p. 101, 2008
42 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2009
Date Written: Oct. 15, 2008
Two important and timely books provide a portrait of the “boom and bust” cycles that have plagued the Great Plains since European settlement: Tim Egan, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, and William Ashworth, Ogallala Blue: Water and Life on the High Plains. This paper reviews the two books, situating their stories within the context of American law governing western settlement, agriculture, and soil and water management. In the wake of the Dust Bowl, federal, state, and local laws began to promote more sustainable farming practices to control soil erosion. However, the post-World War II reliance on groundwater pumping to irrigate bigger and better crops in the Great Plains region has begun to unravel some of these conservation gains, and the law has been slow to respond to the environmental and socio-economic problems posed by groundwater overdraft. The latest economic boom - ethanol production - may have dramatic implications for the Great Plains and its human and natural communities. The lessons detailed in these two books indicate that, absent an increased commitment to stewardship and sustainable practices, both at the pump and on the farm, the nation’s increased reliance on biofuels, particularly corn-based ethanol, may raise the specter of another “boom and bust” for Great Plains soil and water resources.
Keywords: Water, Biofuels, Dust Bowl, Agriculture, Disaster
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