The reasons are obvious: Waters are creeping down to alarming levels, with some lakes and ponds drying up altogether according to Gerringer, a CNN iReporter, nature buff and graduate student in wildlife biology at Indiana State University.
By the end of July, 70 percent of Indiana was experiencing "extreme to exceptional drought conditions," according to the National Weather Service. A relatively wet August (Indianapolis' airport, for instance, got its most rain in 23 years this month after getting the least ever measured between April 1 to July 31) has helped some, though temperatures have been scorching throughout the state all summer. And even with recent rains, much of western Indiana especially remains very much in dire straits.
That much has been especially evident in the Wabashiki Fish and Wildlife Area, near the Wabash River just west of Terre Haute. Besides the absent birds, Gerringer said hundreds of dead fish amassed earlier this summer at what once was a lake bottom -- some of them invasive Asian carp and also others from species that have been native to the area for centuries.
Along the Lower Mississippi River: ''The mighty Mississippi has been a weakling lately'
Last summer, the headlines about the Mississippi River related to floods and attempts to mitigate the impact of the potent, iconic river as it carried dangerously excessive amounts of water.
But this summer -- at least until Hurricane Isaac hit -- the big problem with the Mississippi was too little water, not too much of it.
A swath of the river near Greenville, Miss., began closing "intermittently" after Aug. 12 when a vessel ran aground, said New Orleans-based Coast Guard spokesman Ryan Tippets. The Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging in the area to deepen the channel and help navigation.
Typically, 50 vessels run past this point on a given day. But that traffic came to a halt around Aug. 20, when the Coast Guard shut down an 11-mile stretch between Mississippi and southeastern Arkansas to most vessel traffic because of low water levels, idling nearly a hundred boats and barges.
These low levels made history, and affected it as well. The American Queen Steamboat Company, for example, couldn't take its cruise of Civil War battlefields to Vicksburg, Miss., and instead set off from Memphis, Tenn. Passengers were taken off the boat and bused to the site where then-Gen. Ulysses S. Grant laid siege to Vicksburg, arriving not by water as they'd intended, because of concerns that their steamboat might get "bottled up someplace behind a stranded barge."
"The mighty Mississippi has been a weakling lately," said Greg Brown, America Queen Steamboat's executive vice president of marine operations, on the company's blog.
Isaac provided some rainfall and relief, though flooding was confined largely to Louisiana and was due more to storm surge than anything else. Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, noted Isaac's overall impact on the river was muted elsewhere because "we were so dry that the soil soaks it up like a dry sponge."
Southern Missouri, near The Ozarks: Hard times for dairy farmers
Longtime dairy farmers like Mark Argall have had to sell many of their cows after the drought combined with high prices for feed and low prices for milk forced them into debt. Another man, Stacey McCallister, said six of his cows got sick -- two of them fatally -- after eating a certain kind of grass that was so dry it became toxic. And the small town of Mountain Grove's hardware store is going out of business because the region's farmers are struggling so much, said 76-year-old Joe Robertson, who has worked there for over two decades.
While larger farms owned by corporations can more easily ride out a drought, it's harder for small farmers. Many say they have consistently lost money this year, to the point they can hardly afford to feed the cows they have -- thus prompting them to sell many of them off.
And it's not just happening in Missouri. Cattle ranchers in Oklahoma "liquidated" -- meaning sold off or slaughtered, without replacing them -- roughly 14 percent of their livestock last year because they couldn't keep up with the drought, said Derrell Peel, an Oklahoma State University faculty member who works extensively with ranchers and affiliated companies around that state.
Cows must be fed year round, and when it gets hot they face more stress and need more water. So when pastureland dries up or feed gets prohibitively expensive, many feel like they have no choice. Peel described
"If you run out of all those resources, you have no alternative but to sell those animals," Peel said.
From Washington: The military aims to get its meat now, while it's (relatively) cheap
In mid-August, the U.S. Defense Department announced President Barack Obama had directed the agency to look into buying more beef, pork and lamb, and sooner rather than later. The rationale? Such mass purchases of meat could "provide some relief" to those who raise and sell livestock during a devastating drought, and also because it would be more cost-effective for the government to buy more meat now before prices likely spiral even higher.
While the drought's full effect on food prices, especially for packaged and processed items, won't be felt for 10 to 12 months, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates beef, pork, poultry and dairy prices should rise "within two months." The increase for these items should extend through the end of this year and into 2013, even if "herd culling" increases the meat supply and leads to lower prices in the short-term.
The Defense Department is no ordinary shopper, when it comes to meat or most anything else. It buys massive quantities of food for troops, staffers and civilian employees. Each year, in fact, the military purchases about 94 million pounds of beef, 64 million pounds of pork and 500,000 pounds of lamb.
Given its buying power, stepping up what it buys now could provide a short-term boost for this sector of the agriculture industry, no doubt. But a few months from now -- when times could be tougher, even as prices are higher -- ranchers and others could be looking for more help given that one of their biggest buyers is already well-stocked.
Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana: Residents get a taste of salty tap water, compliments of the drought
When people tasted their tap water in Plaquemines Parish in early August, they got a salty surprise -- compliments of the Mississippi River.
With river levels low due to the drought, the southern tip of the Mississippi has been awash in saline from the Gulf of Mexico. And that crept into the tap water in the parish south of New Orleans.