Ecology and the Environment

How was the Dust Bowl stopped?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. A number of procedures were put into place to try to curtail the damage being done by the Dust Bowl, but it wasn't until Black Sunday, the day on which the debris from the Dust Bowl winds made it all the way to Washington, D.C., that the U.S. government took real steps to put a stop to the problem.

    With drought occurring in many recent years throughout areas of the Southwest, it's also important to know what caused the Dust Bowl. One of the main causes was weakened topsoil caused by an overuse of heavy farming equipment. Farmers in the Southern Plains were faring much better than other Americans in 1931 by producing record-breaking crops of wheat [source: PBS]. Tractors with tillers, devices that turn over the topmost soil layer, could prepare more than 15 times as much sod in a day than a tiller behind a team of horses. However, this process had an unforeseen side effect. Tilling also releases underground soil nutrients into the air, weakening the topsoil. The weak topsoil blew right off farmland in the dry winds of the Dust Bowl and added to the problem. No-till farming is a sustainable agriculture method that prevents the release of topsoil nutrients, keeping the soil fertile, healthy and less subject to erosion.

    Congress established the Soil Conservation Service, a program with an aggressive campaign that promoted healthy farming practices and set forth a number of rules for farmers to follow in an effort to end the Dust Bowl and prevent future problems; the program would last all the way into the modern era. This and other government programs helped, but the Dust Bowl truly ended when Mother Nature pitched in. After nearly a decade of drought, rain finally began to fall on the Great Plains in 1939. Within a few years, many of the farms had returned to normal. But the droughts had taken their toll -- many of the families who chose to stay received some of the first rural relief ever given out by the federal government. By the end of the drought, the government had awarded at least $1 billion (at 1930s value) in assistance [source: National Drought Mitigation Center].

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