Water News — August 2012 (Posted By Mike Mecke)

 As Published in Ranch & Rural Living August 2012

DROUGHT UPDATE—Improvement in Texas Conditions Under El Nino!

Richard Heim National Climatic Data Center,  NOAA July 19, 2012

Latest map of July 17th shows 87% of TX still at some level of drought rating. But, zero at Exceptional level and 8.17% at Extreme level. Big improvement for most of state compared to 2011. Normal areas on upper coast and SE corner of state. Which means most of the rangeland and intensive cropping areas are still in a drought….. with a couple of months of typically hottest summer weather yet. We would still benefit in many of our crucial lake catchments by having a wet tropical storm drift northward across from the coast to Red River country. Many important lake levels are still dangerously low.


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Water News (Posted By Mike Mecke)

Authority Seals Water Deal With Pickens

By Kevin Welch    Amarillo Globe-News    Dec. 29, 2011

The largest water transaction in Texas Panhandle history became final Thursday. The Canadian River Municipal Water Authority paid wealthy oil and gas man T. Boone Pickens’ Mesa Water $103 million for about 211,000 acres of water rights. The deal covers about 4 trillion gallons of water.

Amarillo is one of 11 cities that make up the authority. It uses about 40 percent of the water produced by the group and will repay that much of the bonds used to finance the deal. Lubbock is the other large member of the group that started out using water from Lake Meredith in 1965 to supplement the cities’ own supplies.

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Rethinking water: Growing population, limited supply mean costs destined to rise, experts say (Posted By Mike Mecke)


Published: Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012

Is water too cheap?

Perhaps the most obvious indication that it is, said Michael Webber, a University of Texas professor who heads a research group focused on water and energy, is how freely we use it.

“A hundred years from now, your grandkids would ask you, `You sprayed what on your lawn? That’s crazy,’” Webber said.

Watering lawns will seem as crazy as throwing diamonds on our lawns; we’re throwing the world’s most important resource – clean drinking water – on the ground, Webber said.

The idea that water is too cheap is endorsed by several water planners and policymakers.

“Water right now is underpriced,” said Becky Motal, general manager of the Lower Colorado River Authority.

A growing population requires more water, which the state says can’t come from one source. Addressing the state’s water needs requires a range of solutions, most of which are expensive.

“For most of our recent history, we just treated (water) as if we had an unlimited supply of it. We’re finding to our dismay that that’s not true,” said Andrew Sansom, executive director of the River Systems Institute at Texas State University……………………………..


Authority seals water deal with Pickens (Posted By Mike Mecke)

$103M pact region’s largest water transaction

Posted: December 29, 2011

By Kevin Welch amarillo.com

There was talk of a “momentous occasion” and many thanks for making the largest water transaction in Texas Panhandle history final Thursday.

“I don’t think you owe me any thanks,” said wealthy oil and gas man T. Boone Pickens. “You paid for the water.”

The Canadian River Municipal Water Authority paid Pickens’ Mesa Water $103 million for about 211,000 acres of water rights, mostly in Roberts County in the northeast panhandle. The deal covers about 4 trillion gallons of water…………………………………………………………….

The water authority and Pickens have talked about water sales since about 1996, but the deterioration of Lake Meredith’s performance got everyone’s attention. Reaching a deal took nine months of serious negotiations after a phone call from Amarillo City Commissioner Jim Simms.

“He called and said ‘Lake Meredith’s drying up,’” Pickens said. “I got to feeling guilty. I didn’t want my family to say, ‘That’s one of the Pickenses that sold the water to Dallas.’”




Bill Dawson

October 23, 2011

A drought for the centuries: It hasn’t been this dry in Texas since 1789

 There was only one other year in almost five centuries when Texas’ summer drought was as severe as it was in 2011, federal climate experts have concluded.

Instrumental weather records used to measure drought severity don’t go back much before the 20th century. (In Texas, they date to 1895.)

To establish a longer-range record, scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have analyzed tree-ring data and calculated how drought conditions dating back hundreds of years (to 1550 in Texas) ranked on the standard Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI).

Positive numbers on the PDSI represent wet conditions and negative numbers indicate dry conditions. The more severe a drought is, the lower its PDSI number.

Texas’ average PDSI this past summer (June through August) was -5.37 – the lowest, indicating the most severe drought conditions, since the start of the instrumental record in 1895.

And according to the federal government’s National Climatic Data Center, there was apparently only one other year during the last 461 years when Texas had a drought so severe.

Going back to 1550, the tree-ring reconstructions reveal that only in 1789 was Texas’ PDSI number so low, the center reported recently. (For our readers who don’t readily recall key historical dates, 1789 was the year when George Washington was inaugurated as the United States’ first president and also when the French Revolution started.) Here’s part of the National Climatic Data Center’s report:

The tree-ring record can put the droughts of the last century across Texas, including 2011, into a much longer perspective. The frequency of severe one-year statewide droughts appears not to have significantly changed between the “paleo” period (1550-1894) and the instrumental period (after 1895). Both the instrumental and reconstructed PDSI records indicate that “severe” or “extreme” statewide summer drought (PDSI below -3) occurred in about 1 in 15 years. “Extreme” statewide summer droughts (PDSI below -4) such as 2011 and 1956 are seen in about 1 in 40 years in both the instrumental and reconstructed records.

So how does the 2011 summer PDSI (-5.37) compare to the worst one-year paleo-droughts? We first need to consider that the tree rings are imperfect recorders of past drought, and so the reconstructed values have confidence intervals (or “error bands”) associated with them. When this error band is taken into account, there is only one value in the paleo record, 1789 (-5.14), that can be said to be equivalent to the 2011 observed value. Thus, 2011 appears to be unusual even in the context of the multi-century tree-ring record.

The current drought in Texas has been unprecedented relative to the century-long observed record in a number of ways: the record-low precipitation, the extreme summer heat, and the enormous wildfires. The tree-ring record of PDSI confirms that, in a much longer context, the 2010-2011 Texas drought is an extraordinary event.

And it appears no relief is in sight, the federal Climate Prediction Center said last week in its Winter Outlook for December through February:

With La Niña in place Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and parts of surrounding states are unlikely to get enough rain to alleviate the ongoing drought. Texas, the epicenter of the drought, experienced its driest 12-month period on record from October 2010 through September 2011.

– Bill Dawson

Image credit: © pixonaut, iStockphoto.com


November 3, 2011 | A magazine about climate & sustainability

October 23, 2011

Guadalupe Basin Strategy Proposals – Draft (Posted By Mike Mecke)


(These are some ideas I have proposed in our Stakeholder Committee’s report writing – they will be developed, or dropped or whatever over the next six months.  Every major river basin in Texas is going through this process, so get involved locally.  Anyone have any good ideas or changes?  Please post them if so……. thanks, Mike

DRAFT              STRATEGY  PROPOSALS                  DRAFT

                    GUADALUPE RIVER BASIN & BAYS

                         STAKEHOLDERS COMMITTEE

                                            AUG. 2011



As the population of the basin continues to grow, it becomes even more important that ALL people – from headwaters to estuary – become as conservative of their water as possible.  Climate Change, it seems, as evidenced by more frequent, serious droughts and intense heat waves is more rapidly forcing these changes upon our basin and state.

 Every gallon or acre foot that is conserved is one less that will be needed from the rivers in the basin, or from the aquifers and springs which feed them.  Texans are just scratching the surface of maximum water conservation – we have long prided upon our being conservative people – now we must prove it again in how we manage our most precious natural resource.   Agua es Vida!

 Fortunately, we have numerous options or strategies available in order to improve our basin’s catchment, its rivers and the ways we affect these resources.   

  Such as:

 CONSERVATION – both agricultural, rural and urban dwellers.

 RAINWATER HARVESTING – on homes, public buildings and businesses.  Additionally, applications on streets, parking areas and farm and ranch lands can catch and hold rain and stormwater for recharge, human use and agricultural benefits.

 RIPARIAN ZONE & WETLAND RESTORATION AND STEWARDSHIP – Proper stewardship of riparian zones on the basin’s creeks and rivers can build up the in-bank water holding capacities which serve to maintain base flows during dry periods and provide a healthy riparian habitat for both aquatic species and other wildlife.  Floods are reduced and water quality improved as well as other benefits.

 Restored and healthy wetlands on the rivers or on the Gulf provide not only the cleansing actions desirable for inflows and a very productive wildlife habitat, but also protection for inland communities from hurricanes.


WATERSHED or “CATCHMENT” STEWARDSHIP  - It is a proven fact among hydrologists, rangeland specialists and other field water personnel, that a well-managed, healthy watershed not only provides a desirable livestock and wildlife environment, but increases groundwater penetration and recharge, reduces floods and other benefits. 

 On many karst limestone watersheds, as are common across the Hill Country and Edwards Plateau, selective brush management and subsequent improved rangeland management, has proven to sometimes increase ground recharge and springflows.  Normally, ashe juniper (cedar, mountain cedar) has been the target brush species, but in other cases water thirsty mesquite or redberry juniper control has also produced desirable hydrological benefits.  There are numerous cases and studies that have given rise to these efforts from San Angelo south to San Antonio.

 ALTERNATIVE  OPTIONS – Permit buy-outs, dry year irrigation options, WW effluent dedications, riparian well buy-outs, cooperation and coordination with key riparian Groundwater Districts and Headwaters Groundwater Districts to improve and maintain spring flows, etc.

“Every Drop Counts!” (Posted By Mike Mecke)

Wanting a little more info on Texas Water?  Check out the Texas Parks and Wildlife‘s 10th annual water issue. The issue’s articles deal with a variety of Texas water challenges. Here are some highlights:

The issue opens with a look at the last ten years of Texas water. Concern about the state’s water supply unifies “all sectors of the Texas populace, irrespective of social, political, economic or geographic considerations,” states Carter Smith in “A Decade of Water”. From large cities, such as Houston and Arlington, to smaller towns, such as Luling and Lufkin, Texans have embraced their local bayous, lakes and rivers over the last decade by tackling tough conservation issues and highlighting their beauty.

Larry McKinney reflects on the America’s Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and argues that its future and our futures are inextricably linked. He delves into the inherent contradictions in the Gulf—it is at the same time one of America’s most diverse environmental resources and one of the most economically productive areas in the US. He says that “We face significant challenges to the Gulf’s future, but it is not lost, not even close to being lost. What we have is worth all our best efforts to save.” Read more »

Key Words for Rivers & Creeks (Posted By Mike Mecke)

Today I thought I would share with you an excellent note on managing our creeks and rivers written by  Steve Nelle, a Wildlife Biology Specialist with the NRCS-USDA State Office in San Angelo.  Steve is active in our Texas Riparian Association and is a highly sought educator on these topics.  This Note  defines a number of important terms needed to fully understand riparian and watershed principles.  

This was written several years ago, but is valid now and will be in 2500 too.  I worked with Steve for a number of years when I was a Range Conservationist for the same agency, in Coke County.  He is tops not only in the wildlife field, but range plants and riparian.   Mike

                                                          Riparian Notes

Note Number 23, June  2007                                             Steve Nelle, NRCS, San Angelo, Texas

What is a Creek?

If you were asked to throw a rock into the creek, the result would be a splash and ripples.  We often think of “the creek” as the water.  But a creek is much more than the visible water.  These are the major parts / components that combine together to make the creek:                        

  • Channel
  • Floodplain
  • Water Table
  • Base Flow
  • Flood Flow
  • Vegetation
  • Sediment
  • Debris


The Channel contains and directs the water at base flow up to bankfull flow.  The channel should be relatively stable, yet dynamic, with bank erosion being balanced with new bank formation.

The Floodplain is where out-of-bank flows are able to spread out and dissipate the energy of the floodwaters and trap sediments and build the Riparian Sponge.

The Water Table is part of the creek.  In fact, it may be a much greater volume of water than what is visible in the channel.  The water table is fed by the creek during flood events; and in turn the water table feeds the creek during base flow.  They are in intimate contact with each other.

Base Flow is what we normally think of as “the creek”.  It is the water level for the majority of the year.  On seasonal creeks, there is no base flow during parts of the year.

Flood Flow is a critical and essential part of creek health.  Floods can do much damage, but they also build and rejuvenate creek systems.  The more frequent floods, such as the 2 – 5 year events are actually more important than the infrequent 50 year events.

Vegetation is the most critical component of creek stability.  The root masses of riparian grasses, sedges, forbs, shrubs and trees all work together to knit and reinforce the banks and floodplains.  Vegetation also helps dissipate the energy of floodwaters so that sediment can settle out and be stabilized.  Creeks have an amazing capacity to restore their own desirable vegetation as long as land management practices are adequate.

Sediment is what helps form new point bars, which add sinuosity and reduce stream energy.  Trapped sediment is also what builds new and bigger floodplains, which in turn add water storage capacity to the Riparian Sponge.  Erosion is often viewed as an undesirable process; however some riparian erosion is normal and desirable as it provides material for re-building channels, banks and floodplains.

Debris includes leaves, twigs, branches and large logs, which are lodged and deposited in the channel and floodplain.  Such debris is important for organic enrichment of the riparian area and provides aquatic habitat.  Large logs, which become partially or totally buried in sediment are extremely important for channel stability in many creeks.

Next time you go down to the creek, think bigger than the pools and riffles.  Think about the entire system working together.  When the system is in good working order, the many values and benefits we all appreciate about a creek will be present.

Drought’s grip threatens state with arid 2011 (Posted By Mike Mecke)

Wildfires soar as La Niña effects keep rain at bay

Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle

Dec. 8, 2010

The great drought of 2011 may have started two months ago.

Since Tropical Storm Hermine drenched central Texas in September, the state has been very dry, with large swaths receiving less than 10 percent of normal rainfall levels. Locally, nearly all but the southeastern corner of Harris County has received less than 50 percent of normal rain.

According to the National Climatic Data Center, the two-month period of October and November was the state’s eighth driest on record, and second driest in 44 years. If Texas doesn’t receive at least 0.78 inches in December, it would be the driest October-December period since the 1950s.

The beginnings of drought conditions now — an updated U.S. Drought Monitor released this morning will show much of Harris County now in a moderate and worsening drought — trouble 

meteorologists because there’s little reason to expect relief during the next few months.

“Continuing dry weather is likely to persist at least into the spring,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist and a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University. “It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.”

The big concern is that, absent a wet spring, a large part of the state could experience a severe drought in 2011.

“For now it’s impossible to predict summer rainfall,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “But as things look right now, there will be very little subsurface moisture heading into late spring. These are hair-trigger conditions for a drought.”

More immediately there’s the threat of wildfires as the state dries out.

An active fire season

Partly in response to the looming drought, the Texas Forest Service convened a workshop this week in College Station to alert state and federal fire agencies about the threat, and to prepare.

“There are important indicators however that at least an active fire season is at hand,” said Todd Lindley, a senior forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Lubbock.

Rainfall late in the state’s growing season fed the growth of grasslands that are now drying out, which will provide fuel for any fires sparked.

Wildfires are common in Texas, especially in Lindley’s forecasting area, during these months as strong winter systems bring gusty wind conditions that can easily spread fires.

Forecasters expect a dry fall to continue this winter because of strong La Niña conditions in the equatorial Pacific — where sea surface temperatures are cooler than normal — which typically leads to drier and warmer winters.

The warmth matters too, when it comes to drought, as warmer daytime highs increase the rate of evaporation, further drying the soil.

For Houston a strong La Niña phase almost always yields a very dry winter. According to data compiled by forecaster Chuck Roeseler with the Houston/Galveston office of the National Weather Service, La Niña conditions this winter will be most similar to the winters of 1916-1917, 1917-1918, 1955-1956, 1975-1976 and 1999-2000.

During a typical October-to-March period in Houston, the city receives 22.4 inches of rain. On average, during those five La Niña winters, the city recorded just 10.5 inches of rain, or less than half of normal levels.

“Numbers very similar to this hold true for nearly all of central and south Texas,” said Victory Murphy, a climate expert with the National Weather Service’s Southern Region Headquarters in Fort Worth. “As one moves northward into northern Texas, the signal for dryness is somewhat muted.”

In response to the drying conditions 80 Texas counties have already enacted burn bans, including Waller, Fort Bend and Chambers counties nearby.

Agricultural damage

Murphy said the agricultural impacts could also be acute if the drought persists. During the last major state drought in 2008 to 2009, farming losses were estimated to be $3.6 billion by Carl Anderson, of A&M’s Agriculture Extension Department.

“This impact will need to be monitored very closely by dry land farmers as well as pasture and rangeland producers starting in the springtime when planting begins,” Murphy said.

There’s no immediate threat to stream or river flows, however. Widespread, heavy rains helped Texas emerge from a drought late in the summer of 2009 and, through this past June have raised water reservoir levels into good shape.

However, absent spring rains or — be careful what you wish for — a few good, soaking tropical systems next summer, there could be impacts on water usage and pumping next April and May when homeowners seek to green their lawns, and farmers their fields.


courtesy: Brown & Caldwell Water News, Dec. 15, 2010

San Angelo: Twin Buttes water dispute near settlement (Posted By Mike Mecke)

By Kiah Collier
Published Monday, November 22, 2010

SAN ANGELO, Texas — The end of the city of San Angelo’s five-year-old battle to amend its Twin Buttes Water Rights permit is in sight, but the matter is not yet finished.

An administrative law judge in Austin has decided in the city’s favor on two pending applications that the city submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in early 2005, which were later challenged by more than 40 farmers, ranchers and other downstream water rights holders who have argued that the amendments would violate their rights to use the reservoir water.

The judge’s recommendations will go before the TCEQ commission sometime in the next three months. The challengers to the amendments, who filed jointly as the Concho Watershed Association, have filed a series of exceptions to the judge’s recommendation on one of the application amendments.

That amendment application requests “clarification” in the language in the Twin Buttes permit that deals with “what water belongs to the city or that the city could impound in the dam and what water that the city was obligated to pass to downstream water rights holders,” according to Jason Hill, the city’s special counsel who delivered what he called the “good news” to the San Angelo City Council last week.

The portion the application seeks to clarify is a paragraph in the permit that requires San Angelo to release all natural flow downstream on the Concho River, but also permits it to store flood and rainwater “for use in its water system, as well as for eastern Tom Green County farmers served by the Main Canal,” according to a 2008 Standard-Times article published when the association filed a petition opposing the amendments.

Hill and local water attorney Tom Massey, who has also worked for the city, have argued that the paragraph that requires the city to release water to downstream water-rights holders on a non-request basis is null because the paragraph does not exist in a 1979 adjudication certificate, the result of a court review of the water rights along the Concho.

“It contained some innocuous language that quite frankly was more relevant to the pre-adjudication era of water rights management in Texas and it had some language that it carried over into the certificate that really in today’s modern water rights management structure in Texas, didn’t have a place and created some consternation for the Water Utilities Department and how they operated the dam based on that language,” Hill told the council.

Massey said in 2008 that, because the paragraph doesn’t exist in the certificate, it means the water in Twin Buttes is the city’s property and that should be released downstream only on request something Massey said the city has done.

“Stored water is not subject to call,” Massey said. “It’s our water. We paid for the dam. … That’s pretty well-established law.”

Glenn Jarvis, the McAllen-based attorney representing the association, has argued that the paragraph’s absence from the certificate is an error because when the courts were creating adjudication certificates, they did not have the jurisdiction to revise water rights permits.

Although Hill and Massey assured the council that the city has a strong case that will likely trump the exceptions filed in response to the judge’s recommendation or any appeals made after the TCEQ makes its decision — Jarvis is also confident. Jarvis says the association’s argument is still that the missing paragraph is an error, but also that the judge’s decision did not take into account other language in the certificate,

“It has certain provisions in the water rights that protect other water right holders and that is what our argument is, is that the amendment takes away the protection in the water rights that gives protection to other water right holders that they will have water to use.”