Water News and Links (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

Water battle in central AZ towns not over

Cattail clears arsenic from water

More news about water on the Moon

Republican State Rep’s Take on California’s Water Problems and Texas’ Similarities

Ag Commissioner Todd Staples: Sharing water and responsibilities

Rainfall map of Texas and other maps of interest

Finding an Unexpected Oasis (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

Desert wanderers dream of happening onto an island of fresh water in an ocean of alkali sand and dust. These oases from around the world are places where the wanderers can stop, drink, even settle and farm. But settling an oasis too heavily can deplete its water supply.

Crescent Lake in China’s Gobi Desert sits on the edge of an ancient city that once saw traders embark on their journey along the Silk Road to the West. Today it is drying up and has dropped more than 25 feet in the last 30 years, in part due to water being redirected for local farmers and a doubling of population, resulting in the slow disappearance of a lake that has existed for thousands of years.

Gobi Desert Oasis on Crescent Lake.

Gobi Desert Oasis on Crescent Lake.

(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









Random Water News (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

Lake Mead's "bathtub ring" in Black Canyon near Hoover Dam.

Lake Mead's "bathtub ring" in Black Canyon near Hoover Dam.

U.S. water use has leveled off?

Radioactive runoff heading for upper Rio Grande.

Using 400-500 gallons of water daily to pressure wash chewing gum off the sidewalk at San Jose State.

Decade-long drouth evident by Lake Mead’s “Bathtub Ring.”

A good overview of California’s Central Valley water dilemma.

River Beneath Your Town (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

laying_sewerI’ve been thinking about the huge amount of water required to take away our bodily wastes each day. There’s toilet use, showering, clothes washing, dish washing, and hand and face washing and shaving, to name most of the inside uses of water. Where does it all go? More importantly, where does it come from in the first place?

I used this handy calculator to calculate the bare minimum water consumption for a household of two people. I did not add any outside lawn watering, etc., because I wanted to see how much water would be flowing in the sewer system beneath our streets in town. Using some extremely conservative figures for water use, see the table below, I came up with a per-day average use Read more »

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.


Primitive Cable Tool Water Well Drilling (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

Since I’ve been helping my uncle work over our water wells on the ranch in Upton County I’ve become interested in how they work, how they’re drilled and how underground hydrology works to supply wells with water. While searching for a cheap way to drill a new well I’ve learned a little about cable tool drilling, rotary drilling and air drilling and even drilling using the force of water.

Diagram shows cable tool setup from about the 1930s for drilling for oil.

Diagram shows cable tool setup from about the 1930s for drilling for oil.

Did you know the first drilled water wells (as opposed to hand dug using a shovel or spade) were probably drilled in China? Yes, the Chinese invented cable tool drilling. In that type of drilling a heavy bit at the end of a long rope or cable is jogged up and down to hit the bottom of the hole and break up the dirt and rock into a slurry. Periodically the tool is hauled up and a baler is dropped in to scoop the slurry up and it is hauled to the top of the hole and dumped out. Then the bit goes back in and work proceeds.

Drilling this way is slow going but it works well. The Chinese suspended the rope and bit from a springy tree branch, and men climbed the tree and bounced on the branch to jog the bit up and down at the bottom of the hole. I read somewhere they they drilled holes up to 450 feet deep using this method. In Sichuan Province, wells were drilled down to find brine water to use to make salt..

Of course, cable tool technology became pretty advanced by the time it was used in the early 1900s through probably the 1950s to drill oil wells as well as water wells. Ever seen the old photos of say, Kilgore, Texas, or El Dorado, Ark., with wooden derricks sprouting everywhere, including downtown? Those derricks were constructed of hardwood, often mahogany, and had at the top pulleys that were used to run cables to drill and bale the hole and later drop in casing and tubing and sucker rod.

I found this video on YouTube. In it men are drilling a 200-foot well using man power and what looks like . . is it . . .? Yes, that’s plastic PVC piping used instead of a cable to move the bit up and down. Water shoots out of a fitting on the down stroke so I guess there’s a kind of check valve at the bottom and the clay and water mix is being forced to the top as they work. I would imagine they are not going through any hard rock or maybe just clay and no rock, but isn’t ingenuity grand?

Texas Water Law for Lawyers (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

lawBooksThe University of Texas law school is conducting a two-day refresher on Texas water law in Austin. With the course description, I would guess this one would be geared more to lawyers and legislators than to the general public/concerned citizen. But, if you’ve got your lawyer’eze language greased up, you might want to fork out the $450 for the course and attend.

The University Of Texas School Of Law has scheduled this two-day Water Law Institute for Thursday and Friday, December 10 and 11, at the Hyatt Regency Austin, 208 Barton Springs Road in Austin.

An optional Wednesday evening session titled Texas Water Law Overview, an overview of Texas water law cases, statutes, and regulations, is included in the registration fee.

The program will run from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. on Thursday and from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Friday.

Among the topics that will be explored are a Legislative Update with Mark McPherson of the McPherson LawFirm, PC; Legislative Perspective on CCNs with Rep. Bill Callegari, the Texas House of Representatives; Texas Water Marketing in Perspective with Laura Harnish and Mary Elizabeth Kelly, both of the Environmental Defense Fund; The Big Deal: Ethics of Negotiations Involving Economic Development by Ross Fischer, Denton, Navarro, Rocha & Bernal, P.C.; and an Update on Texas General Land Office’s Water-related Programs with Jerry Patterson, the Texas General Land Office in Austin.

To make a reservation, call (512) 475-6700, email utcle@law.utexas.edu or go to www.utcle.org.