“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.