Dreadful Drought

What problems are created when an environment has less water than normal? Learn more about what we can do to help navigate these environmental challenges.

About the Activity

The Last Holdout farm and neighboring community of Cloverville are hitting hard times. They are in the middle of a drought! Fresh water has become limited, and water bills have increased for farms and families. Due to increasing global temperatures, the impacts of drought are becoming more widespread and severe.

Farmer Bastian and his neighbors need your help to find ways to adapt to drought conditions and conserve water so it is available for only the most important uses. Use problem solving skills to help the farm and community find ways to conserve water and adapt to the dry environment.

This activity is part of our 4-H At-Home USDA Series. See the rest of the activities here.

Grades: 3-6
Topic: Environmental Science, STEM
Estimated Time: 1 hour

Brought to you by the Utah State University Extension STEM and Agriscience initiatives, and USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

A desert

Activity Steps

  1. From dryland farming to mastering water conservation techniques, it’s important to understand how communities can reduce water use during a drought. Some common recommendations for homeowners include:

  • Using less water when you wash your hands
  • Taking shorter showers
  • Not watering your plants and lawns as often
  • Xeriscaping your yard (replacing grass with rocks, turf, and water-wise plants)
  • Using water efficient appliances
Two hands planting on dry ground

In drier areas of the United States without a lot of natural rivers and streams, farmers find efficient irrigation options to channel water to the crops through ditches and sprinkler systems. Farmers also adopt dryland farming so crops can grow with minimal water. Dryland farming techniques include:

  • Widening the space between plants
  • Minimizing tilling of land
  • Controlling weeds so the weeds don’t take the soil moisture from the plants
  • Choosing drought resistant plants that grow well in dry climates

Now, it’s up to you to find ways for Cloverville and the Last Holdout Farm to conserve water. The next steps of the activity will walk you through the worksheet and timeline where you can make your plan.Did you know? The healthier your soil is, the better you will fare in a drought. Healthy soil has better water retention and allows farmers to grow more crops with less water irrigation. Improve your soil by planting diverse crops together, adding organic matter, avoiding tilling, and encouraging the growth of microorganisms.

  1. Use the Water Usage Worksheet to help the citizens of Cloverville decide what amounts of water should be given to each water use category. This will help the local townspeople to prioritize how they use their limited water. Will they prefer to keep the parks green, or choose to give more water to the farm that grows food for the community? Your choices will help the townspeople plan for their water use.
    You can also use the timeline template to help the town set short-term and long-term goals for saving water.Did you know?Taking shorter showers only goes so far. In areas with desert climates, homeowners are encouraged to water their lawns less frequently, or even convert their yards into turf to avoid watering. In Utah, one sprinkler cycle uses an average of 3,000 gallons of water for a quarter of an acre. By reducing how often homeowners need to water the lawn, communities can save thousands of gallons of water.
  2. Using markers, add your drought strategies on the map of the town and for the Last Holdout Farm. Maybe the town will plant some water wise plants or replace grass with xeriscaping! Or, you could help Farmer Bastian by designing a dryland farming plan for his crops. It is up to you to decide on the best solutions.Did you know? Not all plants are created equal. Some plants are much better at surviving droughts because they are adapted to low-water climates. Cacti are one such plant. Other crops can also be adapted for low-water areas, grown with a strategy called “dry farming” which doesn’t rely on any irrigation water at all!

Bonus Activity (Optional)
Think outside the box! Create your own drought adaptation strategy that could be used in your home and neighborhood. If your community has already been affected by drought, you may find that your ideas are already being used! Learn how your entire community contributed to making changes to improve drought conditions.Did you know? Farmer Bastian was a real farmer. David Bastian and his father, Elmer, used dryland farming techniques for over 75 years in the Salt Lake Valley. Shortly before he passed away, Farmer Bastian and his sisters, Emily and Mary, donated some of their farmland to create a 4-H Agricultural Center so that kids and adults could continue to learn about agriculture, science and natural resources.

Reflection Questions
Bonus questions to inspire wonder:

  1. In what ways might drought cause social and economic problems? Think about what businesses or basic human needs might be negatively affected by a lack of water.
  2. We now know how drought affects humans, how might it affect animals and ecosystems?
  3. What are some ways that we might be able to convince others to start implementing water conservation strategies into their daily lives? Why might some people resist these types of changes?
lightbulb icon

Investigate and Explore
Take what you've learned to the next level to learn more and explore the possibilities.

Droughts are a widespread problem that affect communities throughout the United States and the world. Historically, droughts like the Dust Bowl of the 1930s have caused devastating economic and social issues. Within the last 150 years, droughts have become more common due to our changing climate.

Currently, the American West is in the midst of a 25-year long drought that has led to water shortages, wildfires, and destructive flash flooding. It is important that we adapt to drought conditions, as there is no good solution for putting a stop to droughts.

While the water reduction ideas explored in this activity are proven useful, they’re also difficult to mandate or implement on a large scale. This is because they deal with changes to private property, which can be cost prohibitive. Consider how your own community has navigated challenges like droughts or unusual weather patterns, and try to imagine what else can be done to adapt for future events.

A desert

Career Connections

Young girl studying
STEM Careers

As climate change affects us more and more, we need more professionals in climate and environment related fields to help us adapt and solve problems. Scientists, public health professionals, city planners, landscape architects and others use their knowledge of water conservation on a daily basis to keep the world running with less water.

In Colorado, Drought Specialist Peter Goble studies the water cycle, specifically where it interacts with soil, to monitor drought conditions and collect useful data in his work with Colorado State University and the Colorado Climate center. Read an article where he is interviewed about the effects of drought.

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No endorsement of these supporters' products or services is granted or implied by 4‑H. This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, AFRI - Education and Workforce Development project 2021-67037-33376.9

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