The Texas Drought Continues
June 18, 2013

The Texas Drought Continues

The National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, released new findings this last week showing the drought levels in Texas continue to increase. They say that 11% of the state is in “exceptional” drought, which is the highest and most severe level.

Technically, we’re in the same drought that we’ve been in since 2011. If the weather continues as many predict, this will be the second worst drought on record for the state.

The lower than average rainfall has been the main reason for the water crisis, although there are many other factors that have added to the problem. La Nina is responsible for the weather patterns associated with the lower rainfall. La Nina creates drier and warmer weather in the southeast parts of the United States. The reservoirs and aquifers have not fully recharged in two years. The Edwards Aquifer, in the San Antonio area, is becoming dangerously close to the lowest levels ever seen, which could lead to strict water restrictions to the city later this year.

The Texas Tribune says that in 2011, the amount of water that evaporated out of two lakes in the Highland Lakes area of the Hill Country, Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan, was more than the amount used by the people of Austin. Both lake levels are low and have been for many years; I can’t remember the last time Lake Travis wasn’t sporting a wide band of naked shoreline.

But for years, Texas has been setting itself up for a water crisis. We’ve allowed suburban growth to expand with reckless abandon. We were a little less than proactive in our conservation efforts. Debates over Texas water rights and groundwater pumping have been ongoing for years, even more so now, and, in the meantime, people just keep pumping. Water consumption practices were – and still are – out of control. This, coupled with the weather patterns, culminated into the shriveled pickle in which we now find ourselves.

There are other small reasons for why we’re losing our water. The non-native, invasive Saltcedar trees are common along banks of rivers. Besides the salt deposits they leave, a single, large plant can absorb 200 gallons of water a day. Using water in a wasteful manner, minor or undetected water leaks, and crumbling urban infrastructures can all be sources of lost water.

My biggest pet peeve regarding water usage is landscaping. People move into locations where lush and tropical landscaping is not a native feature. It requires ridiculous amounts of water to support those plants in an area where they were never meant to thrive. Master-planned communities spend thousands of dollars a month for landscapers to keep the common areas manicured and well-hydrated. Many companies and countless homeowners have lawn sprinkler systems on timers. Besides watering in the very middle of the day, they allow the sprinklers to run for way too long, well beyond their useful watering time, while water flows over the curbs and down the gutters into the storm sewers. It’s because of human arrogance – trying to manipulate the landscape to our liking, rather than how nature designed it – that we waste so much water in that way. The Texas A&M Agricultural Extension Agency has a wonderful brochure that discusses how and why to use xeriscaping using native plants as a way to conserve water.

The impact of the drought can be seen in many ways if you pay attention. Trees – even our hardy live oaks – are dying from the stress. Our roadways are cracking and coming apart. The agricultural impact is something I can’t even begin to touch on; the ripples the drought has caused are innumerable. Every form of wildlife across the state is suffering to some degree. Towns and small businesses are losing money as well from the loss of recreation dollars.

Where do we go from here? Well, since we can’t control the weather, we must instead change our behaviors. As with most of society’s problems, it would appear as though educating the masses about the issue is the best way to combat the drought. When we begin to understand the factors and realize that small changes, in conjunction with reflecting on attitudes regarding the water situation, we will start to see that we can make a difference on our end as consumers and citizens.

Texas is constantly working on a drought action plan involving organizations such as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Water Development Board and the National Drought Mitigation Center. There was an action plan drawn up by the Drought Preparedness Council to give us some guidelines.

The forecast for this spring and summer isn’t overly encouraging in the way of rainfall, so don’t expect things to get better any time soon. We’re no strangers to water rationing, and it’s a safe bet you’ll be seeing those mandatory restrictions in place again throughout the summer.

Image Credit: Lori Martin / Shutterstock

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