Water News Briefs–March 2010 RRL (Posted By Mike Mecke)

Following are news briefs as published in the March 2010 issue of Ranch & Rural Living. There are a few extra news items that didn’t make it into the magazine.

Language of Water Politics Often Murky

Feb. 17, 2010—Scott Stroud—San Antonio Express-News
If you’re out of the habit of talking to folks who study water policy for a living, meetings on its future in Texas can feel like they’re unfolding in a language you do not speak. You study people’s faces for signs: the knowing nods at phrases like “rule of capture” and “prior appropriation.” You hope  no one asks you a question.  But you can learn things if you’re patient, though you might have to do your own translating. And some of what you learn is alarming.  Such was the case at a two-day symposium on water at Trinity University, sponsored by Trinity, the San Antonio Peace Center and the Texas Drought Project.

Battle Over Water in Pecos County

Feb. 16, 2010— Eddie Garcia—CBS 7 News
Over the past 50 years, Pecos County and businessman Clayton Williams have been fighting a war over water.
“We have 32 wells, that averages about 2,000 gallons per minute.” Williams explained. That’s millions of gallons used to water his hay and alfalfa crops, steady work but no longer a cash cow.
“If you can’t make money then you have to do something else.” Williams tells us.
And Williams has a plan of grand proportions. He says, “I visualize a 30 inch pipeline that would take most of the water, not all of the water, to more less a spot between Midland and Odessa and we’ll divert it to whoever wants to buy it.”
According to Williams, it boils down to one thing, property rights.

Read more »

Texas’ Groundwater Rights in Supreme Court (Posted By Mike Mecke)

Courtesy: Public Strategies, Inc., Texas River Systems Institute.  2/24/10

“Texas Supreme Court to Decide on Groundwater Pumping Rights Case

The ownership and control of groundwater pumping rights in Texas are now in the hands of the state Supreme Court. Last week, the nine justices heard arguments in a case that pits the right of a landowner near Von Ormy to pump from the Edwards Aquifer against the government’s authority to regulate the use of ground and surface water. For more than a decade, the Edwards Aquifer Authority has argued that in order for it to regulate pumping, landowners cannot own the water in the Edwards Aquifer. It was first time the state’s highest court considered that argument. Scores of landowners, private organizations, cities and state agencies that disagree with the EAA packed the courtroom and formed a line outside. “Any ruling by the Court that in any manner destabilizes groundwater ownership rights could have dire consequences for Texans and the Texas economy,” wrote Texas Comptroller Susan Combs. The EAA was created by state law in 1993 to ensure a future water supply for the region and protect endangered species by limiting pumping from the aquifer. Instead of allowing landowners to continue to pump as much water as they wanted as long as they put it to some beneficial use, the authority issued pumping permits and put a cap on the total amount that could be pumped. The EAA argues that if the groundwater is owned by the landowners, then it and the roughly 95 groundwater conservation districts in the state would be open to a lawsuit every time they tried to limit pumping or be forced to compensate landowners.”


Right or Wrong?

What is your feeling on this case?  I spent about ten years working on the Edwards Aquifer region with pumpers, towns and irrigators……….. before and after the EAA was created and users were obligated to observe new pumping rights and permits.  I feel it was necessary to control over-use by any very large or uncaring users and to maintain adequate water use and irrigation pumping for all users.  And also,of course, under the earlier Federal Endangered Species lawsuit, maintaining springflow at Comal and San Marcos to preserve the habitat for those ES…….. while helping to maintain adequate river flow in the rivers below the springs on the way to healthy bays and estuaries.

Going back to my earlier post – Whose water is it?  Urban or Rural?  Should a city or a wealthy individual be able to buy or take water from a smaller, agricultural community just because it has the money or can?  Do urban lawns and golfcourses count for more than food or fiber crops, livestock or small town’s viability?  Do you want to have to buy more and more of your family’s food  from foreign markets?  Not me!   Or if you live in a city, would you rather have the financial help to your city’s economy and taxbase from a healthy surrounding agricultural region?  Yes!

Water is Life! – it is not a commodity like oil or gas

Mike Mecke

“Texas Should Study Climate Change” (Posted By Mike Mecke)

(interesting article, see my comment below)
“Texas should study climate change”

By Jay Banner, Charles Jackson, Katharine Hayhoe, Gerald North and Liang Yang 
Special to The Galveston Daily News

January 15, 2010

Our atmosphere and climate are changing in unprecedented ways, due in part to human activity.
Population also is expanding; Texas is home to four of the top 10 fastest-growing cities in the United States.

The natural landscape is becoming increasingly urbanized.

At the same time, our demand for water, land and other natural resources is increasing. All of these issues raise concerns about what our future may hold.

Projections of future climate can be made using computer models of the climate system that take into account both natural and human effects on our world. The models predict a much drier Texas, particularly in the western half of the state, on par with or even exceeding 10- to 30-year “megadroughts” of past centuries.

These changes carry potentially enormous implications for Texas’ agriculture, wildlife, water, infrastructure, public health, businesses and energy use.

Consequences include lower stream and lake levels, water shortages and growing competition between urban, rural and industrial users.

During the 1950s, Texas experienced a seven-year drought that was part of a larger dry spell that gripped the Great Plains and the American Southwest. As a result, 244 of the 254 counties in Texas were declared federal disaster areas.

During the last ice age about 20,000 years ago, mineral deposits — forming from water dripping deep into Texas caves — typically grew 10 to 100 times faster than they do today, indicating that Texas was a much rainier region during the last ice age.

In the more recent past, trees in central and West Texas leave a record in their rings of multiple megadroughts since the 13th century. Scientists link the rainy ice ages and megadroughts of the past to cyclical shifts in Earth’s orbit and natural cycles such as El Niño.

Our ability to predict changes in Texas’ future climate will meet continuing challenges, and there will be uncertainty about how the state should plan for the changes.

The likelihood of some effects is becoming clear, however, with improved consensus from the scientific community.

For example, projections are consistent that the American Southwest likely will become drier throughout this century, marking a transition to a new average climate for the western part of Texas similar to the drought of the 1950s.

We propose Texas needs to take three key steps in the near future to address the risks associated with future change. First, assemble the best climate change information that currently exists. Second, improve this information through further research. And lastly, identify information gaps and uncertainties, and determine how to use the best information to plan for the changes.

There is currently no coordinated effort in the state of Texas to fill these needs.

This is in contrast to the global consortium of experts that constitutes the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; state-level efforts such as in California, which has a branch of its Energy Commission dedicated to quantifying climate change impacts and possible adaptation strategies; and municipal efforts such as in Chicago, which has a citywide Climate Action Plan that includes estimates of future costs.

A climate consortium for Texas could conduct the following essential functions:

• Bring together leading experts and stakeholders to determine the top concerns about how climate change could affect Texas.

• Quantify uncertainties of future changes, so the state can determine how to best plan investments for adaptation and for research to reduce uncertainty.

• Prioritize areas for new research; for example, generation of high-resolution climate projections for regions within Texas, and the response of aquifers, streams, soils, and air quality to changing climate.

• Summarize the latest scientific data for policy makers with accurate quantification of uncertainties.

• Compare the costs to Texas of acting versus the costs of not acting.

As world leaders work to build global accord on climate change, and as other states and regions are enacting their own legislation regarding greenhouse gas emissions, Texas needs to lead in determining what climate change will mean for Texans and what we should do about it.

We are fortunate to have leading researchers, planners and policy makers in our state’s institutions, agencies and businesses, and we should take advantage of these resources by bringing them together to help address this important challenge.

Banner and Yang are professors and Jackson is a research scientist, all in the Jackson School of Geosciences, and Banner is director of the Environmental Science Institute, University of Texas at Austin. Hayhoe is a research associate professor in the Department of Geosciences, Texas Tech University. North is a professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University.

I feel the above article is largely very appropriate for all Texans to read and heed. Especially the first three paragraphs regarding our state’s rapidly expanding population in the drier parts of Texas (roughly from 1-35 West). If you think we do not and will not in the future have many more serious water-related problems, well, stick your heads back into the little natural beach sand left on Galveston Island. This is happening not only now,  in Texas, but in many other states (and nations). Probably due as much or more to population and higher water use, than climate – but, still it is happening. A drought similar to those of the 30′s or 50′s would be much more severe and costly now than it was then, just due to our huge population growth and higher water use  than in the early/mid-1900′s – often in areas that are naturally water short and not really appropriate for large numbers of people.

I do not see this as Al Gore-ism, but rather recognizing that climate does change – it always has – and it seems to be warming in the Southwest and elsewhere. We have had in Texas and elsewhere, many intense and short-termed droughts in the past few decades.  The past decade in San Antonio was the warmest on record.  The past summer set all kinds of heat records in central Texas.  Worldwide, man has produced some negative effects upon air, many natural resources and weather over the past few hundred years – we can do much better for our health and for the health of our world. If you are proud of Houston’s #1 rank as the US city with the most polluted air, then open your windows on the crowded freeways and breathe deeply.

It only makes good sense to gather all the good data, historical weather trends and informed scientists together to plan wisely for our future. Since the late 90′s we have started doing just that for Texas water planning. So, why not tie water to projected weather changes and how that may affect rainfall patterns, watersheds, rivers, aquifers, food production and our growth patterns?    Mike

New York Times:Heavy Rains End TX Drought (Posted By Mike Mecke)

(Boy, now doesn’t that give you relief – when the NYT [or Wall Street] report our Texas drought is officially over!!!   Maybe they think the Wall St. bailout helped Texas ranchers and farmers?   Gulp – someone(s) have not seriously studied long-term Southwestern droughts – I remember a decent year or two during the 50′s I believe – and this has only been 3-5 good MONTHS of late!  We’ll see this next spring and summer – hope they are right.  Stay tuned and report back to us on your status or opinions please.   Another Drought of Record note  at bottom.   Full article below.   Mike)
Published: January 8, 2010
HOUSTON — The worst drought to strike Texas in the last 50 years has broken, ending a year-and-a-half dry spell in which farmers and ranchers suffered devastating losses, climatologists and agronomists said this week.

Heavy rains since September have replenished reservoirs, filled stock tanks and quenched huge expanses of parched earth across Central and South Texas, where state officials estimate that farmers and ranchers suffered losses of around $4 billion.

John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist, said that while some pockets along the Gulf Coast and in the Panhandle remained drier than usual, most of the state had recovered.

“The back of the drought is broken,” Mr. Nielsen-Gammon said. “It’s still lingering in a few areas, but there aren’t any places right now feeling acute drought.”

The rains came too late for many ranchers in South Texas, who were forced to send to market most of their cattle, including breeding stock. Cotton farmers suffered, too. In Kleberg County, the entire cotton crop failed for the first time since 1904. The yields in two other nearby counties were barely 5 percent of normal.

“Nothing grew, zero,” said Jon Whatley, who grows cotton and sorghum in Odem. Mr. Whatley said the drought seemed worse than an infamous dry spell in the 1950s that his father had lived through.

“In the 1950s, they were always able to get the crop up and growing — the yields weren’t good — whereas in ’09, we couldn’t get it growing at all,” he said.

State officials say the period from September 2008 to September 2009 was the driest on record in the state.

Mr. Nielson-Gammon said the drought owed much to the two winters in which surface water temperatures along the equator in the Pacific Ocean were below normal, a phenomenon known as La Niña. In addition, the tropical storms that raked the Texas coast in 2008 dropped almost no rain inland.

But this winter the Pacific is unusually warm because of the pattern known as El Niño, which generally brings wet weather to Texas, he said. The central region around Austin and San Antonio received 8 to 12 inches more rain than normal from August to October. Farther south, around Corpus Christi, a wave of storms in November and December dropped up to 10 inches more rain than usual, he said.

Austin Brown II, a third-generation rancher in Beeville, said he was so elated to see the rainfall this autumn that he sent out a Christmas card with a picture of his family standing in front of a full farm pond that had been desiccated the summer before.

But Mr. Brown said he and other ranchers were still in dire straits. He was forced to cull 75 percent of his cattle and, with beef prices remaining low because of the national recession, he was unsure when or if he would be able to rebuild.

“It was very devastating, and one that we may not ever get over because beef prices are terribly low right now,” he said. “I’m not anxious to rebuild. By the summer we should know if we are really out of the drought.”

Matt Huie, another Beeville farmer and rancher, planted 1,000 acres of cotton last spring, but the seeds failed to sprout. Now, Mr. Huie said, the ground is moist enough to engender hope of a good crop this year.

“It’s rained more in the last 90 days than it did in all of 2008 combined,” he said. “After two lousy years in a row — one really, really bad — this year had better be a home run, or there are going to be a lot of people out of business here in the ag industry.”

Rachel Marcus contributed reporting.

———————————– SEE  NOTE  BELOW ———————————

NOTE:  NOAA records for San Antonio give an all time rainfall AVERAGE from 1871-2009, as 29.06 inches/yr.   The Median, usually a more accurate number, is 28.53 inches for the entire period.  What you often hear or read in local news reports is the latest rolling 30 year average, which for 1971-2000 was a 32.92 inch average – about 3 inches a year higher than long-term.   I guess that higher number is used as it sounds better to Chambers of Commerce, new prospects and developers?  They maybe don’t think about “sustainable water resources” as much?  The longer the data record is, say 1871 to 2009 - the more accurate it tends to be.  128 years in the history of the earth is a blink of the eyes.  

Here are SA’s rainfall records for 1947 to 1957:

1947 = 17.32″                                        1952 = 26.24″

1948 = 23.64″                                         1953 = 17.56″

1949 = 40.81″                                         1954 = 13.70″

1950 = 19.86″                                          1955 = 18.18″

1951 = 24.44″                                           1956 = 14.31″

                                          1957 = 48.83″

Drought” is often computed as a year in which only 75% – or lessof the annual average precipitation is receivedUsing the long-term average of 29.06″ that would mean any year receiving 21.8 ” or less is a “drought year.”   In the modern period of 1971-2000 a “Drought” would be rainfall below 24.69 inches!   A considerable difference!

For the official Fifties Drought of Record, that would designate in San Antonio’s rainfall  history: 1947, (1948 close), 1949 wet, 1950, (1951-52 close), 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956 and officially “breaking” in 1957.

1957 was much like 2009 – it was a hot drought year till fall rains hit.   I can remember thinking of Noah’s Ark in the fall of ’57!   As an A&M freshman who grew up in mostly hot, droughty years, all I really needed for clothes was a raincoat and helmet - especially with no girls around!   So, the timing of rains and intensities, can be as important as annual totals.  You can see, that in the ten year Fifties Drought period, there were years (1948, 1949, 1951 and 1952) that were over the official “Drought” determination level and 1940 was even exceptionally high due to only 3 very high months of rainfall.  So, take drought related articles with a healthy grain of skepticism and check their facts.  Here in early 2010, many of our key lakes are still very low, some aquifers still are down and rivers not up to full strength yet.    This affects not only rural areas, but many cities.   So, we have a lot of catching up to do yet.  In some regions, many pastures and ranges are still hurting and not back in the “black” yet.  Ag income in the “red” for many in ’09.  Drought in Texas and the rest of the Southwest is a way of life and will always be with us- so plan for it in your farming and range plans!  Check and bookmark the drought web site on this blog for reference - and maybe the rainfall harvesting one too for that extra water reserve! 

Texas’ New Environmental River Flows Process (Posted By Mike Mecke)

Experts, states and federal agencies have long recognized that river systems are crucial to many important natural services, while providing life-giving drinking water for people, livestock and wildlife; irrigation water for our food and other products; groundwater recharge and recreation for people.  Healthy creek and river flows are crucial to maintaining the vital green belts along them called “riparian zones”.  Riparian zones are important for quality livestock grazing, wildlife habitat, water filtration and storage, stormwater/ flooding reduction, maintenance of streamflows, aquatic system health and recreational values.  (See http://www.texasriparian.org/  for riparian information.)

But, all that fancy terminology is not “new information” to most of you rural Texans, farmers and ranchers - the original “stakeholders and conservationists” who have been taking good care of Texas’ watersheds, creeks and rivers for hundreds of years!  You already knew how important that spring and creek in the valley pasture was to you, your livestock, the wildlife on the place and to the river it flows into.  But, many present day Texans are “new Texans” or have been in towns/cities so long they have been disconnected to the world around them.   Many think food comes from grocery stores and water appears magically at their faucets.  This process will try to assure that all of us are going to pay enough attention in the future to those vital springs, wetlands, creeks, rivers and bays – from now on – making sure that our kids, grandkids and all others will have their many benefits forever.

 Environmental Flows processes were created by the 80th Texas Legislature in recognition of the importance that the ecological soundness of our riverine, bay, and estuary systems and riparian lands has on the economy, health, and well-being of our state. Thru SB-3 legislation the major river basins and bays of Texas will be carefully reviewed, studied and environmental flows data and guidelines will be developed by several committees and groups.  Expert science teams for each basin will support each basin’s group of stakeholder’s committee along with technical support from state agencies and academic institutions. 

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is the primary state agency charged with this mission.  This is a crucial process, which not only will affect Texas’ rivers and bays, but the springs and creeks which feed our rivers and wetlands providing so many life-supporting services for Texans.

 The Environmental Flows program in Texas began with the Sabine/Neches Rivers & Bay; the Trinity/San Jacinto Rivers & Galveston Bay; the Colorado/Lavaca Rivers & Bays, and this fall, the Guadalupe River Basin & Bay system.  Each major river basin will also have its own Science Advisory Committee made up of qualified, knowledgeable experts in several different sciences necessary for flows study and development.

 Each basin will have citizen stakeholder groups representing all key interests along the rivers and on the Gulf such as: Ag Irrigation, Livestock, Recreational Water Users, Towns & Cities, Soil & Water Conservation Districts, Industry, Commercial Fishing, Public Interest Groups, Groundwater Districts, River Authorities and Environmental Interests. 

The author is a member of the Guadalupe River Basin & Bays Stakeholder Committee and will try to keep you magazine and blog readers aware of the status of the process.  If you have good comments, questions or information of value to the Guadalupe basin, please send them to me and they will be considered.

Your local newspaper and other media should keep you updated on meetings in your river basin and of key issues discussed and resolved.  If your newspaper is not carrying this information, contact the Editor and ask that they obtain the news releases from TCEQ or your local River Authority.

City will have to Move People:WATER SHORTAGE (Posted By Mike Mecke)

(no, not here in USA or Texas - yet, but too much growth in the wrong places might….and not just due to climate changes!  Several Texas areas are experiencing too much growth with the possiblity of local water shortages in their future.  A saying among water folks is “Water flows uphill to the money!”  Cities/towns often feel like they will need or deserve the “new” water more than nearby agriculture does.  Do you agree?   Or?)

Vanishing glaciers imperil La Paz

Fears are growing for the future of water supplies in one of Latin America’s fastest-growing urban areas – Bolivia’s sprawling capital of La Paz and its twin El Alto.

Scientists monitoring the glaciers high in the Andes mountains – a key source of water – say the ice is showing signs of shrinking faster than previously forecast.

Back in 2005, glaciologist Edson Ramirez, from the University of San Andres in La Paz, predicted that the Chacaltaya glacier would vanish by 2015.

In fact it’s happened several years sooner………………………………………

Faced with a booming population and a combination of glacial retreat and reduced rainfall, the governor of the La Paz region is even contemplating moving people to other parts of Bolivia.

Water is already in short supply among the poorest communities and has become a cause of tension…………………………………..

High impact

I asked the governor of the La Paz region, Pablo Ramos, how he was responding to the latest studies into the future of water supplies.

One answer is that new reservoirs may be built and underground sources tapped.

But it’s clear that these solutions may not be enough and Mr Ramos is starting to consider a far more radical solution – trying to move people away.

He told BBC news: “We are thinking about a planned programme of migration, mainly to the north of the region.”

On a large map in his office, he pointed to an area of well-watered rainforest and explained his plans for new settlements.  For sure there’s going to be a huge movement of people – planned and unplanned.”

La Paz already has one global claim to fame: as the world’s highest capital.

If the most extreme climate predictions are right, and water shortages become severe, it may acquire another claim in coming decades: as the world’s first capital to run so dry that it has to turn people away.

(read the whole article on link)


(Posted By Mike Mecke)


It was an outstanding photo – had to share with ya’ll.  I had heard that on the delta Georgianne, too bad it is going into the Gulf with the nutrient load and causing the huge “Dead Zone”  I was probably being a little too hard on farming methods causing the sediment in the river and Gulf – more likely it is geology-caused – all those great, deep clay and clay loam soils erode very easily and did pre-white man too.   But from what little of the river system I have seen in the Midwest there is little or no native riparian system left to trap sediment, pollutants or provide habitat.  I hope that is changing as we learn.  But I still see millions of tax dollars being spent making sections of river into hardened canals – a la San Antonio River Walk and Museum extension.  thanks for commenting, Mike  (We urge all of you readers to do so too and to add your own news items! Please do…… we need your input.)

Mike, The Mississippi Delta is sediment starved in recent years. Instead of depositing in the delta, sediment is trapped behind dams up river. Then the levees in the lower region propel most remaining sediment into the deep gulf waters where it cannot build land. 
Thanks for sharing the satellite image. 


On Nov 21, 2009, at 1:26 PM, “Mike Mecke” <mmecke@stx.rr.com> wrote:

The Texas Riparian listserv is managed by the Texas Riparian Association to promote communication about Texas riparian issues, ecology, and management. More information about the TRA at www.texasriparian.org

st1\:* { BEHAVIOR: url(#default#ieooui) } Look at the results of many man- caused wounds to  “Ole Man River”: pollution, destroying riparian zone, poor farming conservation methods, city waste effluent & stormwater, destroyed wetlands, etc.   Is this happening to your river?   From: Susan
At least we don’t’ live along the Mississippi


Sediment in the Gulf of Mexico


Drought Losses Heavy in Lower Rio Grande Valley (Posted By Mike Mecke)

Drought losses top $19 million in Lower Rio Grande Valley

Reservoir levels are healthy but wet winter not forecast
November 13, 2009


Rod Santa Ana, 956-878-8317,r-santaana@tamu.edu

Contact(s):Dr. Luis Ribera, 956-968-5581, LARibera@ag.tamu.edu

WESLACO — For the second year in a row, Mother Nature has dealt a heavy blow to agricultural producers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, according to an economist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Weslaco.

“Last year it was Hurricane Dolly that helped rack up losses of just over $25 million,” said Dr. Luis Ribera. “This year, the drought claimed just over $19 million.”

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency, final tallies for 2009 show that almost half of the total acreage of cotton, corn and sorghum was lost to the drought.

“Of almost 524,000 acres planted in 2009, we lost just over 255,000 acres, or about 49 percent, to drought,” Ribera said. “Losses totaled $19.13 million.”

Despite the higher financial losses in 2008, more acres were lost this year than last.

“That’s because more cotton was planted in 2008, and cotton is a higher-value crop than sorghum or corn,” Ribera said. “Had more cotton been planted in 2009, losses would have been much higher this year.”

According to the USDA report, the four-county area at the southern tip of Texas lost roughly 77 percent of its cotton, 34 percent of its corn and 45 percent of its sorghum.

“The highest losses came in the dryland planting of those three crops,” Ribera said. “Of the $19 million in losses, irrigated crops only accounted for less than $1.4 million of that. This just reemphasizes our dependency on Rio Grande irrigation water.”

Despite a recent trend among Valley growers away from cotton, Ribera expects that will change.

“We’re likely to see more cotton planted in 2010 for two reasons,” he said. “One is that cotton market prices seem to be on an upward trend, likely due to a decrease in cotton production in the U.S. and China. The other is the need for crop rotation. After two years of planting sorghum, yields are starting to decrease so growers need to replenish their soils by rotating in a crop of either cotton or soybeans.”

With market prices in the mid-60s cents per pound of lint, Ribera suspects growers will opt for cotton instead of soybeans.

“Cotton market prices have been low for several years, at or below 50 cents per pound,” Ribera said. “But since April, they’ve been on an upward trend, probably due to an increased demand worldwide for lint. As of Nov. 5, the market cash price was at 62 cents per pound.”

Rio Grande reservoir levels should not be a major concern in the foreseeable future for those growers who irrigate, according to Erasmo Yarrito Jr., the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Rio Grande watermaster.

“The reservoir at Falcon Dam is at 64 percent of capacity, and Amistad, which is the larger reservoir, is at almost 96 percent capacity,” he said. “That’s a combined U.S. storage capacity of 82 percent, which is much higher than the trend of the past five years.”

The exception was last year, Yarrito said, when both reservoirs were above capacity due to excessive rains and flooding on the Mexican side of the Upper Rio Grande River Basin, a major source of South Texas water.

“Hopefully, Mexico will have a wet winter,” Yarrito said. “Since many of their reservoirs are already near capacity, rain would prod them to release water that could be captured in our reservoirs.”

Rain is not necessarily in the forecast for deep South Texas, however. Weather experts report that weather patterns are not conducive to a wet winter.

Jeral Estupinan, the science officer at the National Weather Service in Brownsville, said although this is an El Nino year, conditions do not seem strong enough to clearly predict a wet impact on South Texas.

“Our chances of a wet winter are better this year than last, but there are no guarantees that El Nino will produce rains at this latitude,” he said. “And unfortunately, not all fronts produce measurable precipitation through our area. We can’t rely on cold fronts to promote precipitation this winter. The exception could be along the coast on the tail end of cold fronts, but it is very difficult to predict.”

Estupinan said the Rio Grande Valley typically needs wet summers in order to have a normal rainfall year, which did not happen this year.

“Although we achieved normal rainfall for part of the summer, it was not enough to alleviate the drought. We had a very dry summer and the hottest summer ever for McAllen and other areas of the Valley,” he said.

Alfredo Vega, a hydro technician at the weather service, said deep South Texas is five inches to 11 inches below normal rainfall. Normal rainfall in Brownsville is 27.5 inches per year.

“In the short term, most areas are below normal rainfall, and drought conditions in South Texas range from normal to moderate to severe, depending on the county,” he said.

DROUGHT! IS THIS THE ‘50’s REVISITED? (Posted By Mike Mecke)

(Note: has the extreme two year drought affecting mostly south and central Texas ended?  Much of the region has had good rains in September and October – but has that ENDED this drought?  We do not know yet, but pray it has………. time will tell.  Be careful of your water resources in the meantime – no, always!)


 Mike Mecke, Retired Water Specialist, Kerrville

Ranch & Rural Living

October 2009

 The severe drought affecting central and south Texas for the past two years has many across the state old enough to remember that terrible, life-changing drought immortalized in the late Elmer Kelton’s book The Time It Never Rained” wondering if this might be a repeat of the fifties?  Our recent loss of this great Texas writer is till fresh on many minds.  But, that is another story.  Those terrible years, in some areas ranging from 1948 thru the fall of 1957, made a lasting impression on Texans.  Many other Texas counties had “just” a seven year drought from 1950 to 1957.   Growing up in San Antonio during the 48-57 drought, I thought that was normal.  Many Texas rivers, creeks and lakes were dry – just as some are now.  By 1951 the drought had spread to most of Texas.  We thought it was another Noah’s flood when the drought finally broke with a welcome vengeance that fall of 57.    But, it was years too late for many farmers and ranchers across the state who were already broken in cash income, crop production, grazing and spirit.  Those were sad times in the Texas agricultural communities and we hope to never see them again.   Those awful times spurred a huge increase in the drilling of irrigation wells to take some of the risk out of farming in Texas.  Many lakes were also constructed in the next 10 to 20 years making rural water and power more secure. 

 In Texas water planning, the fifties drought is called “the drought of record” and water resources are generally planned to exceed the demand of those low rainfall years to be considered “safe”.  But, as old timers, meteorologists and drought experts tell us, Texas is no stranger to both short and long droughts.  Drought is normal in Texas and we must expect it and plan for it both in agriculture and in urban water planning.  I used to do range manage-ment planning for ranchers and always advised them to keep their base herd below the forage level of what would be grown on the ranch during drought, and then add to it with stockers or other short-term livestock in good, wet years.  Better safe than sorry! 

 The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority funded a tree ring study in 2006 to study the history of drought in Texas going back before recorded history.  The width of the spacing of tree rings tells scientists whether it was a dry year with rings close together (indicating little growth), or a wet year with widely spaced tree rings.  The study showed another ten year drought in South Central Texas from 1710 to 1717 which was worse than the drought of the fifties!  The Hill Country showed a worse one also from 1571-1580!  Boy, let’s hope and pray we never get one of those again!

 Similar tree ring studies in the West Texas mountains and in Arizona have shown major droughts in the Southwest going back a thousand years.  Modern droughts are remembered in the 1900 teens, the dustbowl years of the thirties and brief, but intense  droughts in the 1970’s, the early 1980’s and even in the ‘90’s.  

            Drought is considered to happen when an area receives less than 75% of its “normal” rainfall.  Seems there are few normal rainfall years it seems out in the country, especially when dry land farming or ranching!  The Texas State Handbook states that in each of the ten geographic or ecological regions from 1892 to 1992 had from ten to seventeen drought years in that period.  During the 1900’s each region had at least one serious drought each decade!  Of course drought history is important to be aware of and to educate ourselves.  But, no drought is as important to our rural communities as is the present one!  It is hitting producers, towns and the state in the pocketbook during this already tough recession period.  This drought has been greatly aggravated this summer by record heat across Central and South Texas.  Record drought combined with record heat is a devastating combination!  Many towns in those regions have had many more 100+ degree days this summer than ever before recorded.  Ag Extension states that agriculture has already lost over $4 billion dollars this year alone.  Not only beef producers, but dairies have also been hit hard.  As native trees are dying in some areas, also are rancher’s cattle.  Crops in many areas have been devastated with losses from significant clear to100%.  Normally high producing dry land crops in South Texas were virtually wiped out this year.   When you throw in the rapid population growth of our state, which rose from 7.7 million in 1950 to 20.8 million in 2000, you can see the effect that widespread groundwater and surface water pumping has on our state’s limited water resources.  By 2050 Texas is projected to have 46 million residents, with about 70% living in the Houston-San Antonio to Dallas-Ft. Worth triangle!  What does that do to water demands and future drought effects?  Nothing good, I assure you.  Many other regions and cities in Texas are also experiencing rapid growth such as: El Paso, Lubbock, the Hill Country, Odessa/Midland/San Angelo and the Rio Grande Valley.  Where will this water come from – especially in drought years which we now know are expected to occur regularly? 

 That issue is a hotly debated topic in Texas and one we will talk about more right here (Ranch & Rural Living Magazine) in the future.  Yep, the old Spanish saying that “those who cannot remember the past are  condemned to repeat it!” is just as valid today as centuries ago.

More information on drought in Texas can be found at the Web site of the Drought Joint Information Center at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/   I wish to credit some information from an excellent article in the Blanco County News by Milan J.Michalec, Director on the Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District in Kendall County.

  Map of Drought – Sept. 2009









Do Our Creeks Make Good Sewer Routes? (Posted By Mike Mecke)

Well, probably if you are a utility engineer or a utility manager, you may think they do.   Do city council members/mayors or county commissioners/judges really understand what they are voting for when they approve such projects with our money?  I wonder.  But what else can be said when the “lowest possible grade” is the best route for the huge 4 foot or more sewer lines and manholes in many towns and cities?  Seeing is believing. 

Come to beautiful Kerrville in the heart of the Hill Country.  See what city utility managers, engineers, and contractors think of their clear, spring-fed creeks and the Guadalupe River.  A current city project has just laid huge sewer line pipes along and IN the once beautiful Town Creek and Town Creek Lane.   No longer is it a pretty, clear flowing creek with nice oaks, pecans, sycamore and other trees and shrubs along it.   The drive along the creek – crossing it 4-5 times on low-water crossings and under nice shade trees is changed probably forever.   Looks more like Iraq now!

This creek is known for its wild floods downstream into Kerrville and the Guadalupe River – a major water source for thirsty residents.   And a popular swimming choice for residents and tourists alike.   This was also true for Town Creek – many swim and fish in its clear waters – or did.   Almost all pipelines eventually leak or break.   When one of these frequent floods swell the sewer lines and pop off the manhole covers (in the middle of the creek, by the way) isn’t that going to be nice – maybe thousands of gallons of untreated sewage flowing down the creek and right into the heart of Kerrville.  What about the pretty Riverside Nature Center at the junction of the creek and the Guadalupe and the hiking trails on the creek?  Then the river flows on to Center Point, Comfort and Canyon Lake.   Who will warn those folks or clean their water? 

Bet the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the  Authority would be just as concerned as the folks drinking from and swimming in those waters are – right?  

Not to mention, the loss of the complete riparian vegetation complex along the creek – grass, forbs, shrubs and trees.  Then the topsoil was replaced with caliche and left bare - very little silt fencing either – only where most visible from a main crossing at Schriner St.  Almost to late in fall for most reseeding now, even if good soil is replaced.  Riparian bank functions of filtration, binding of soil, wildlife habitat, creek shading, aquatic life food/cover, etc. are all gone.   Supposedly, a revegetation plan exists – was it planned and approved by experts knowledgeable in what native riparian plants should be used?  Not cheap and easy exotics like Bermuda and KR Bluestem grasses.  A major flood this winter or spring will be a disaster -  will not even be good for the engineering structures like bridges, roads, etc.  That could get expensive for taxpayers.

Another big question looms for Kerrville residents.   Apparently the city is approving new water hookups for new homes and building out to them or for the near future.   There is even recent talk about extending these utility lines much further up Town Creek along Harper Road north of I-10 to hook up new homes.  Kerrville gets much of its water from the river, which was down to about 14cfs this summer I believe – almost nothing.  Many Kerr residents are new to the area or even to Texas and see the broad “river expanses” through the town and think “all is okay” never realizing that is not the river, but a series of small dams creating long lakes thru town.  It would scare them maybe if they had seen the actual river bed flows!   The rest of Kerrville’s water comes from Trinity-Edwards aquifer wells which was way down too due to the current two year drought that put us into Stage III.  The aquifer still is not fully recovered in many areas – some rural well owners had water hauled to them this summer for drinking.   Hmmm, rainwater harvesting anyone? 

Sure, we have been blessed with great rains in Sept/Oct., but the drought may not be over and our water supplies have not yet recovered.  Even in the long 8-10 year drought of the Fifties, we had some good wet periods.  Many here in Texas were not around then or have not learned from the past.   And in the fifties, Texas was mostly a rural state still and Kerrville was really a small town with much lower water demands.  What about now or in 2030?

Where will all this new water come from – especially in long droughts that will come in the future?  Do you really want the pretty small towns you moved to when escaping the metropolis, to look just like that large, smoggy, high traffic city?   Most of us came to these towns to escape that!  Big is not better.   So, wake up folks and get involved.