Could We Suffer Another Dustbowl?

Arizona Public Media
Nov. 15, 2012

Are the recent droughts across the southwest and deadly dust storms that engulfed Phoenix a sign of things to come? Have we learned any lessons?

Arizona’s Dust Bowl: Lessons Lost,” a 60-minute documentary produced by Arizona Public Media, explores how this tragedy affected not only the Arizona’s economy, but also the area’s demographics, and culture. It was produced, directed and written by Tom Kleespie, Arizona Public Media's senior producer for special projects.

This special documentary will air Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. on PBS 6 and precedes Ken Burns’ new documentary “The Dust Bowl," which surveys the cases of one of the worst man-made ecological disasters in U.S. history. It airs Nov. 18 and 19 at 8 p.m.

“Arizona’s Dust Bowl: Lessons Lost”  will also air on KAET (Eight PBS) in Phoenix, KERA/North Texas, KNME/Albuquerque and KLVX/Las Vegas.

The Dust Bowl was a disaster caused by severe drought that affected much of the U.S. during the 1930s.

Poor farming practices, primarily attributed to the large number of small family farms, compounded the severity of the damage. While the environmental disaster was mainly in the Midwest, the socioeconomic repercussions transformed the nation, especially Arizona.

Work in Arizona’s cotton fields was the last hope for some of the thousands of migrating Okies and Arkies. These new arrivals brought their preference for Southern food, music, religion and culture with them.

The shift in demographics and tastes changed Arizona forever, transforming Arizona and displacing thousands of migrant Mexican laborers.

Racism was rampant. Hundreds of thousands of Mexican and Mexican-American citizens were forcibly deported south of the border. Unlike migrant Mexican laborers who previously went home at the end of the harvest, Arizona’s new residents stayed. Most lived in squalor, and survived on the public dole.

The people on the Navajo and Hopi reservations in Northern Arizona were not excluded from the affects of the Dust Bowl.

Concerned about the overgrazing of livestock, the economic backbone for the Native Americans, the Soil Conservation Service feared that Hoover Dam would silt up. The service convinced the Bureau of Indian Affairs to carry out a stock reduction program on the Navajo and Hopi reservations. A million sheep and goats were slaughtered, and thousands of families decimated.

Guests in the documentary include: Manley Alan Begay, Jr., a social scientist in American Indian studies at the UA; Tom Swetnam, director of the UA's Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research; Thomas E. Sheridan, a UA anthropologist; and Janet Sturman, a UA music professor.

To read more, visit Arizona Public Media's site.

Photo courtesy of Arizona Public Media

Contact: Sue DeBenedette, marketing manager at Arizona Public Media, at 520-621-5222 or


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