In all, about 58,000 dead fish were along a 42-mile stretch, according to state officials, and the cause of death appeared to be heat. Biologists measured the water at 97 degrees in multiple spots.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” said Justin Pedretti, who owns a farm near the boat ramp in Bonaparte, Iowa, and first reported the fish kill.
Under the most wide-reaching drought since 1956, and torched by the hottest July on record dating from 1895, the United States has been under the kind of weather stress that climatologists say will be more common if the long-standing trend toward higher U.S. temperatures continues. Most immediately affected are the nation’s water sources and the people and crops that rely on them.
The flow of the Mississippi River has slowed — at times rivaling 40-year lows — allowing saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico to seep far up the river channel, threatening community water supplies at the river mouth. Likewise, across the nation’s middle, many communities have invoked water restrictions to protect shrinking supplies. The lack of rain has sizzled the nation’s corn crop, too, with agriculture officials reporting last week that the overall yield is expected to drop 16 percent from last year.
Scott Lakin, owner of a family farm in Indiana, was already dealing with the drought harming his corn crop. But his wife recently called with the discovery that the weather woes were striking much closer to home.
“I heard the washing machine making sounds — it wasn’t filling,” Marcy Lakin said. “Then I checked the faucets and couldn’t get even a drip.”
The well was dry. The water table in the area had sunk to new lows, and like other homeowners in Parr, Ind., they were without water. When they sought out a well-driller to try to find water, they found that drillers across the state were booked for a week.
Six of 35 observation wells in the state have hit historic lows, said Mark Basch, chief of the state water rights department.
The Lakins, with two kids, have gone almost two weeks without water.
“I think you could say it’s been a trying summer,” she said. “Everybody was looking for water.”
Inching up by degrees
In 1895, the first year of such records for the nation, the average July temperature in the contiguous states was 72.1 degrees.
Since then, average temperatures have been rising, if slowly, according to U.S. records, climbing at the rate of 1.24 degrees per century.
This year, average temperatures spiked to 77.6 — even above the long-term trends, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last week.
At the same time that temperatures have spiked, setting records in places as far-flung as Lansing, Mich., and Greenville, S.C., the country has been hit with a spreading drought. In early August, 62 percent of the contiguous United States was under moderate to exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.