When we have a drought, it can affect our communities and our environment in many different ways. Everything in the environment is connected, just like everything in our communities is connected. Each different way that drought affects us is what we call an impact of drought.
Drought affects our lives in many different ways because water is such an important part of so many of our activities. We need water to live, and animals and plants do too. We need water to grow the food we eat. We also use water for many different things in our lives, like washing dishes, cooking, bathing, and swimming or river rafting. Water is also used to help make the electricity we use to run the lights in our houses and the video games you may like to play. When we don’t have enough water for these activities because of a drought, many people and many different things will be affected in many different ways.
We often talk about drought's impacts as either “direct” or “indirect.” What does that mean? Well, to find out, let's think about dominoes. If you set up a long line of dominoes on the floor and knock the first domino in the line over, it will cause the second domino in the line to fall and hit the third, which will fall and hit the fourth, and so on.
If those dominoes were drought impacts, the first domino you knock over might be farmers’ corn crops dying. The second domino might be that the farmers would not have money to buy a new tractor from the dealer in town. The dealer would then lose money, which would be the third domino. If enough farmers lose their corn crops, the dealership might not be able to employ as many people or may even have to close down—the fourth domino. The dealership closing would cause many more impacts in the community.
The farmers’ crops dying would be the “direct” impact of drought. The dealer losing money and all of the other impacts would be the “indirect” impacts of drought.
All of the impacts in the example above would be “negative” impacts. But the impacts of drought aren’t always all negative. How can this be? Well, let's think about the example of the farmers we talked about earlier. The farmers who have lost their corn crops might use the money they didn’t spend to buy a new tractor to hire a person to drill irrigation wells. The well-drilling business would make more money, so for them the drought might actually have a “positive” or good impact. However, the overall impact of drought in an area is almost always negative.
Types of Drought Impacts
Drought affects all parts of our environment and our communities. The many different drought impacts are often grouped as “economic,” “environmental,” and “social” impacts. All of these impacts must be considered in planning for and responding to drought conditions.
Let's take a closer look at all kinds of drought impacts.
Economic impacts are those impacts of drought that cost people (or businesses) money. Here are just a few different examples of economic impacts:
Farmers may lose money if a drought destroys their crops.
If a farmer's water supply is too low, the farmer may have to spend more money on irrigation or to drill new wells.
Ranchers may have to spend more money on feed and water for their animals.
Businesses that depend on farming, like companies that make tractors and food, may lose business when drought damages crops or livestock.
People who work in the timber industry may be affected when wildfires destroy stands of timber.
Businesses that sell boats and fishing equipment may not be able to sell some of their goods because drought has dried up lakes and other water sources.
Power companies that normally rely on hydroelectric power (electricity that's created from the energy of running water) may have to spend more money on other fuel sources if drought dries up too much of the water supply. The power companies' customers would also have to pay more.
Water companies may have to spend money on new or additional water supplies.
Barges and ships may have difficulty navigating streams, rivers, and canals because of low water levels, which would also affect businesses that depend on water transportation for receiving or sending goods and materials.
People might have to pay more for food.
Drought also affects the environment in many different ways. Plants and animals depend on water, just like people. When a drought occurs, their food supply can shrink and their habitat can be damaged. Sometimes the damage is only temporary and their habitat and food supply return to normal when the drought is over. But sometimes drought's impact on the environment can last a long time, maybe forever. Examples of environmental impacts include:
Losses or destruction of fish and wildlife habitat
Lack of food and drinking water for wild animals
Increase in disease in wild animals, because of reduced food and water supplies
Migration of wildlife
Increased stress on endangered species or even extinction
Lower water levels in reservoirs, lakes, and ponds
Loss of wetlands
Wind and water erosion of soils
Poor soil quality
Social impacts of drought are ways that drought affects people’s health and safety. Social impacts include public safety, health, conflicts between people when there isn't enough water to go around, and changes in lifestyle. Examples of social impacts include:
Anxiety or depression about economic losses caused by drought
Health problems related to low water flows and poor water quality
Health problems related to dust
Loss of human life
Threat to public safety from an increased number of forest and range fires
People may have to move from farms into cities, or from one city to another
Fewer recreational activities