[imgcontainer right] [img:coyote.jpeg] [source]James R. Burnett/Omaha World-Herald[/source] Coyote decoys used by Omaha’s Millard North High School are proving effective at scaring away raccoons that tore up newly laid sod on the school’s baseball field. The realistic decoys have even fooled some passers-by, including the school’s principal. [/imgcontainer]

This is shaping up to be the year of water in rural America. Okay, it might also be the year of energy. Or something else. But right now, there are a bunch of water stories that seem fundamental to rural America’s future.

Most of them have to do with water shortages. In today’s Austin American-Statesman, Asher Price reports that Texas is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to order New Mexico to release water down the Rio Grande into the state. Texas is arguing that New Mexico is not abiding by a 1938 agreement to deliver Texas’ share of Rio Grande River water.

Texas is charging that New Mexico is “illegally allowing diversions of both surface and underground water hydrologically connected to the Rio Grande downstream of Elephant Butte reservoir in New Mexico,” Price writes. 

This isn’t the only water story in Texas. Just yesterday, the Lower Colorado River Authority voted to withhold releases of water from lakes in Central Texas that are used by rice farmers near the Gulf Coast to grow their crops. 

Downstream interests have called on upriver interests (primarily cities, such as Austin) to support the construction of a new reservoir and to conserve water. “Please allow the entire basin to share the pain of the decision made today,” Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald told the board.

Meanwhile, on the Mississippi River, a 200-mile section of the river could be essentially closed to commercial shipping by the end of the month. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it can maintain a 9-foot channel until late January, but that is all the government is promising.

Already, business is down by up to half in the last few months at one barge service company, USA Today reports. Some shippers are switching to rail. 

And, 2012 was the hottest year on record, a full degree higher than the last hottest year, which was 1998. 

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center told Politico that this means we should expect longer droughts and more dramatic rainfalls. “Big heat and big rain are the types of extreme events that we are seeing more often,” said Deke Arndt, chief of the climate monitoring branch. 

As a result, in Iowa, 87 percent of the soil is still moisture short, even after an early winter blizzard.

Get used to it.

What’s The Frontier? — The National Journal reports that the two U.S. Senators from Montana object to a new definition of “frontier” being proposed by the Office of Health and Rural Policy. 

The new rules would define more areas as “frontier” and therefore make them eligible for government grants and programs. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester fear this will make it harder for very remote places to benefit from these programs.

“Frontier counties in Montana … face significant problems in recruiting physicians and other health professionals; in supporting the range of services needed to meet basic health needs of the community,” the senators wrote. “Sparse population density is compounded by distance to services, but is, in and of itself, a defining characteristic of a frontier community.”

Emergency Postal Closings — Save the Post Office points out that the Postal Service continues to close post offices through suspensions. There were 124 offices closed in the last fiscal year through emergency suspensions. Mostly, the Postal Service says there are problems in securing a lease to the facility. 

STPO explains:

Many of the suspensions have occurred because the Postal Service, or its real estate agent CBRE, put unacceptable demands on the landlord, like a large rent reduction (as much as 30 percent) or an early-termination clause.  So whenever a post office’s lease is coming to an end, it’s at risk for an emergency suspension.  During the first six months of 2013, nearly 1,900 post offices will have a lease expiring.  

SOTP has lists of those post offices with expiring leases.

America’s Favorite Joke — Alexandra Bradner notes that Hollywood (and New York and etc.,.) never get enough of making fun of poor people. The latest example is “Buckwild,” a new MTV “reality” show about West Virginians. 

Remember the proposed CBS show, “The Real Beverly Hillbillies”? When that bit of “entertainment” was proposed, Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky said, “No one would dare propose creating a program focusing on stereotypes about African-Americans, Muslims or Jews … Why then would it be OK to bash those of us living in rural America?”

“Of course, we all know why,” writes Bradner. “Suffering people are so entertaining. There’s nothing more humorous than decades and decades of exploitation at the hands of the coal and natural gas industries, both of which have ravaged the landscape and choked its people in miserable jobs, hundreds of dark miles beneath the Earth’s surface.”

Scare Coyotes — A Nebraska high school uses coyote decoys to keep raccoons off the baseball field. 

Let the Bison Roam — A judge has okayed a state plan that allows bison to roam freely outside Yellowstone National park. 

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