Kansas University Research: ‘Weather Whiplash’ Triggered by Changing Climate will Degrade Midwest’s Drinking Water

Kansas University Research: ‘Weather Whiplash’ Triggered by Changing Climate will Degrade Midwest’s Drinking Water April 3, 2017

One consequence of global climate change is the likelihood of more extreme seesawing between drought and flood, a phenomenon dubbed “weather whiplash.”

Now, researchers at the University of Kansas have published findings in the journal Biogeochemistry showing weather whiplash in the American Midwest’s agricultural regions will drive the deterioration of water quality, forcing municipalities to seek costly remedies to provide safe drinking water to residents.

KU researchers Terry Loecke, assistant professor of environmental studies and lead author, and Amy Burgin, associate professor of environmental studies, said they hoped their research could help inform farmers, policymakers, water departments and the general public.

“Municipal water services should be paying attention,” Burgin said. “Iowa is the bull's-eye of this problem, and it’s going to spread out from there — this might not be at the forefront of a lot of Kansas minds right now. But given it’s an agricultural state, it’s a matter of time before we’re in same boat. In Iowa, now it’s hitting smaller municipalities. According to analysis by the Des Moines Register, 30% of them will have this problem — and most don’t have the tax bases to support huge nitrate-removal facilities.”

The team took a close look at a 2012-2013 drought and flood cycle that affected much of the Midwestern U.S., leading to a nitrogen spike in surface waters. Read more about Loecke and Burgin's research, what they learned, and the possible implications for agriculture and Midwest urban water resources in this University of Kansas article.