Decatur County Droughts of the 2010s
Decatur County, Iowa
2012, 2013, 2017, and 2018 have all brought Decatur County severe drought conditions. During those years, the county also became the poorest area in Iowa. Poor farm productivity and a declining population are just some of the factors contributing to the economic decline. Year after year, Decatur County has qualified for emergency loans or disaster funds due to drought. While the rest of the state faces severe flooding, high heat and low rain have afflicted the counties bordering Missouri.
Droughts have plagued Decatur County for most of the county’s history. However, as the droughts come with more frequency, the groundwater supply is in danger of becoming depleted. Lack of water in Decatur County was an issue initially identified in the 1960s. As the county continues to rely on groundwater to water crops, the problem is only being exacerbated.
In 2012 and 2013, July was on record as the lowest month for rainfall in Iowa in the past 25 years. Iowa has warmed 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1988, contributing to the increase in drought in areas like Decatur County. As droughts last longer, Decatur County will continue to see an economic decline. With more than 20% of residents in poverty, threats to agriculture are met with increasing dismay. Once considered a consistent source of income, farming becomes much less reliable in drought conditions.
For Leon residents, the drought of 2018 brought only two inches of rain over the hottest parts of the summer. Many of the farmers were left hoping for even a sprinkle. The area usually has 37 inches of rain a year, most of which occurs from May through September. The drought brought less than half the rain expected for a typical summer month. For area farmers like Brent Wuthrich, this means a dramatic cut in income. “What makes it tough is that yields will be lower and the prices will be a lot lower. It causes you to sharpen your pencil and look at your costs to cut out things that aren’t needed. You never know what tomorrow holds.”
Sources: on-line: Dave Price, “Iowa’s Poorest County Suffers Another Setback, but Optimism Remains for Better Days,” 13WHOtv, February 2018; “Special Report: Drought,” Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, August 2017; Donnelle Eller, “What a Difference One Degree Makes,” Des Moines Register, August 2018; Joseph Murphy, “Rain Provides Some Relief to Drought Area in Southern Iowa,” Iowa Soybean Association, August 2018; print: J.W. Cagle and W.L. Steinhibler, “Availability of Ground Water in Decatur County, Iowa,” Iowa Geological Survey, 1967.