Rural Depopulation in the U.S. Mapped

As I look at this map below, I will share one observation. The corn ethanol story has drastically increased the amount of demand for corn in recent years because of government policy. This, we are told by our Secretary of Agriculture, is a boon to the Midwest. Yet, if we look at this map, we can see that the largest corn producing states, and ethanol production states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Nebraska have lost population in their rural areas during this supposed boon time period. Fact is, current farm policy and programs like this are contributing to farms getting larger and depopulation of the Midwestern rural areas.

From the USDA…

Nearly two-thirds of rural U.S. counties have lost population since 2010

Population change is varied across rural and small-town America. Since 2010, over 1,200 rural (nonmetropolitan) counties have lost population, with declines totaling nearly 400,000 people. At the same time, the population of just over 700 rural counties grew, together adding just over 300,000 residents.

New regional patterns of growth and decline emerged in recent years. Areas of population decline appeared for the first time in the eastern United States, including New England, the North Carolina-Virginia border, and southern Ohio. Falling birth rates, an aging rural population, and a declining manufacturing base contributed to population downturns in these regions.

In the Mountain West, population growth also slowed considerably, and in some cases turned negative, for the first time in decades, affecting numerous counties in western Colorado and Wyoming, central Oregon, and northern Idaho. In contrast, an energy boom has spurred population growth in sections of the northern Great Plains that had previously experienced long-term population declines.

source: usda

Overuse of Groundwater in California Threatens Future Farming and Human Habitation and Requires Enormous Amounts of Electricity

As this California drought intensifies, this week I caught the first headline warning that people may need to be migrated out of areas where its groundwater has been depleted from pumping until exhaustion. As it turns out, there is little or no oversight on using up groundwater in the state, and so the busiest industry there of late has been well drilling.

Stanford is doing a series on groundwater use and policy problems in California, beginning with a great title, “Ignore it and it might go away“, referring to its unregulated use. They tell us that six million Californians rely on groundwater solely for their water supply (mostly in the Central Valley or Central Coast); 85% of California’s population relies on it to some degree; and California’s $45 billion agriculture industry relies upon it. Unfortunately, the state’s antiquated laws concerning groundwater use allow for secrecy, unfettered use, and depletion.

In that article, they inform us what ground water is:

Contrary to a popular misconception of an underground river or lake, groundwater is found in the tiny spaces between sand and gravel and rock. Glaciers left some of that water thousands of years ago, while much of it is regularly replenished by snowmelt, rain and surface rivers and streams.

A lesser known story is how much electricity is required to pump this groundwater, and as it depletes, the amount of electricity needed grows ever larger to pump from deeper depths. Earlier this year, a news reporter friend of mine told me that a large landowner in California’s Central Valley was paying 3 million dollars per month for electricity to pump water. Previously, I wrote about how much energy is required to move water in California.

According to the Association of California Water Agencies, water agencies account for 7 percent of California’s energy consumption and 5 percent of the summer peak demand.

California’s State Water Project uses 2 to 3 percent of all electricity consumed in California, including the electricity required to pump water 2,000 feet up over the Tehachapi Mountains, the highest lift of any water system in the world to supply southern Californians with water.

These percentages don’t include the farmers who pump water out of the ground, plus other users. And we all know that it takes a lot of water to make electricity, too.

Estimates tell us that between 19 – 23 percent of California’s total electrical consumption is used for water pumping, treating, collecting and discharging water, and most of that is used for farming.

We are facing a vicious cycle of quests for energy and water coupled with our human desire to live in the wonderful desert oasis climates.


ADDENDUM . . . Just so happens PBS Newshour covered this same story today, so I am adding their fine video to this post.


To learn more, see my previous post: How much energy does California use to move water?

Also see: California drought: ‘May have to migrate people’

Less Corn. More Shrimp.


2013 Hypoxic zone measurements

Do you like shrimp?

This year’s Deadzone in our Gulf of Mexico waters will be about the size of Connecticut. It is estimated that the Dead Zone causes losses of $82 million per year to the seafood and tourism industries.

Much of it is caused by corn cropland fertilizer runoff that ends up going down the Mississippi River. Corn used to fuel cars – cropland used to feed cars, not people. In contrast, a healthy Gulf of Mexico sans Dead Zone would be capable of growing more shrimp, crabs, clams, and fish which humans love to eat. Which would you vote for if it were your choice, if you got to pick one over the other?

We should all resent this loss of soil and wasted fertilizer that poisons our – what should be – naturally rich, abundant, seafood-producing region of the United States, our Gulf of Mexico.

This is what agribusiness lobbyists, a couple dozen Midwestern policy makers in D.C., and a presidential caucus that begins in Iowa, have bought for you, Americans.

Wouldn’t we be a richer nation and have a higher quality of life if our vote was cast for healthy land, rivers, and waterways? If our vote was cast for a healthy seafood-producing Gulf region? The many livelihoods which could be enriched in the Gulf region would exceed the few Midwestern jobs at ethanol plants in a region where this biofuels policy is only contributing to ongoing depopulation of the Midwest as farms continue to get larger.

We live in an era where we struggle to find enough clean seafood. We could all win by having a healthy Gulf and healthy Midwestern land and water if we would reverse the corn ethanol mandate, prioritize sustainable farming methods, reestablish grasslands along waterways, encourage sustainable grazing lands, and grow real-food crops on smaller more biodiverse farms, once again, in the Midwest.

Less corn. More shrimp!


For further reading see:

1. Summer ‘Dead Zone’ expert notes connection to midwest corn planted for ethanol from Houston’s news.

2. 2014 Forecast: Summer Hypoxic Zone Size, Northern Gulf of Mexico (EPA)

3. Dead Zone Size of Connecticut Demands Federal Action.