EarthLabs > Drought > Lab 7: Is Your Region Ready for a Drought? > 7A: Drought Impacts

Is Your Region Ready for a Drought?

Part A. Drought Impacts


In addition to being essential for drinking and cooking, water is also critical for producing food, manufacturing products, and keeping the environment healthy. Because having access to freshwater is so important in so many areas of life, droughts produce a complex web of impacts that reach well beyond the area that is experiencing physical drought.
Dry grass burns readily in eastern Washington. Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

  1. Get a sense of some of the recently reported impacts of drought by visiting the Drought Impacts Reporter.
    • Move your cursor over the interactive map to see lists of the numbers and types of impacts that have been reported in different states.
    • Choose a state and click it, then choose and click a county within the state.
    • Read through the list of impacts that is generated below the state map. Explore some of the links to news articles to understand how the events are related to drought.
  2. Read the following text, adapted from information provided by the National Drought Mitigation Center, to get a sense of the pervasive nature of the economic, environmental, and social impacts of drought.
  3. The economic impacts of drought on a community can mount up after just one season of drought. Farms may lose money due to crop failures and an inability to feed and water livestock during drought. In turn, agriculture-dependent businesses conduct less business and lose money. Additionally, tourists may be reluctant to visit drought-affected areas, reducing another source of community income. Use of forests for recreational purposes may be discouraged because of fire hazards. Water based recreation may also decrease. Businesses relying on these activities will suffer. Because of a general increase in the potential for bankruptcy among businesses, banks may become reluctant to loan money or extend loan periods. In this way, the economic impacts of drought spread through and beyond affected communities.

    Mule Deer. Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    Similarly, drought's environmental impacts can degrade the habitability of a region. Rivers and lakes drop to low levels and turbidity and salinity increase, affecting fish habitat. Mountain animals have less to drink and migrate to wetter areas or to places of water concentration. The potential for catastrophic wildfires increases.

    Finally, drought can cause a series of social impacts. Drought affects human health, both physically and emotionally, in both rural and urban areas. People lose their peace of mind if they're not certain they'll have enough water. They may also change their habits in response to animals that come into communities in search of food and water, or to the increased risk of fire caused by dry landscaping around their homes.

    Stop and Think

    1. List several of the drought impacts reported in your own or other states. Classify each impact as economic, environmental, or social and include justification for the classification.
    2. Project the results of one or more of the drought impacts you read about into the future. What economic, environmental, or social impacts could follow if drought worsens or persists for one or more years?

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