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.


Earth’s Water (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

Been a while since I thought about Earth’s water cycle — seem’s like it was about the fifth grade. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about water as part of our atmosphere. Did you know that water vapor in the atmosphere is considered a “greenhouse gas?”

The U.S. Geological Survey water website has a good educational section that is about my speed and I stumbled upon a page about the distribution of water on Earth:

A graphical view of the distribution of water resources on planet Earth. Source: USGS website.

A graphical view of the distribution of water resources on planet Earth. Source: USGS website.

The Earth is pretty much a “closed system,” like a terrarium. That means that the Earth neither, as a whole, gains nor loses much matter, including water. Although some matter, such as meteors from outer space, are captured by Earth, very little of Earth’s substances escape into outer space. This is certainly true about water. This means that the same water that existed on Earth millions of years ago is still here.

Now, the USGS lesson states that not much water is being created or destroyed, but I beg to differ. The chemical breakdown of water and its “reassembly” is happening constantly and in great volume. The chemical breakdown of water occurs in growing plant life and animal life. The reassembly occurs when very old and not so old hydrocarbon compounds combust or burn. And, of course those hydrocarbon compounds are the products of once-living plant and animal life, both land- and ocean-based.

Disclaimer: I am not a scientist and have no idea what I am talking about but like to pretend I do.


Introductions, Open Thread (Posted By Gary Cutrer)


Lake Travis, Texas.

If you’ve newly found this blog and are interested and plan to visit often, please leave your name or handle and a short comment as an introduction. Feel free to suggest water topics or news of interest!


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)



Law of the Biggest Pump (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

waterside_windmillIn Texas water law, the state owns your surface water, as a general rule, and you must get permission to use that water. The landowner owns water found below the earth’s surface in the crevices of soil and rocks–percolating water. Texas groundwater law is judge-made law, derived from the English common law rule of “absolute ownership.” Texas courts have adopted, and the legislature has not modified, the common law rule that a landowner has a right to take for use or sale all the water that he can capture from below his land.

Because of the seemingly absolute nature of this right to all water beneath your land, Texas water law has often been called the “law of the biggest pump.” Regardless of how it affects your neighbor’s well, you can pump all the water you wish from your wells. However, the case of a subterranean river is different. As landowner, you are presumed to own underground water until it is conclusively shown that the the source of supply is a subterranean river. Both stream underflow and subterranean rivers have been expressly excluded from the definition of underground water in Section 52.001 of the Texas Water Code.

All this information in easy to understand language is available at this Texas A&M and AgriLife Extension website. More:

The practical effect of Texas groundwater law is that one landowner can dry up an adjoining landowner’s well and the landowner with the dry well is without a legal remedy. Texas courts have refused to adopt the American rule of “reasonable use” with respect to groundwater.

Exceptions to Absolute Owner Rule. There are five situations in which a Texas landowner can take legal action for interference with his groundwater rights:

  • If an adjoining neighbor trespasses on the land to remove water either by drilling a well directly on the landowner’s property or by drilling a “slant” well on adjoining property so that it crosses the subterranean property line, the injured landowner can sue for trespass.
  • There is malicious or wanton conduct in pumping water for the sole purpose of injuring an adjoining landowner.
  • Landowners waste artesian well water by allowing it to run off their land or to percolate back into the water table.
  • There is contamination of water in a landowner’s well. No one is allowed to unlawfully pollute groundwater.
  • Land subsidence and surface injury result from negligent overpumping from adjoining lands.

Texas Water 2010 Conference April 13-16 (Posted By Gary Cutrer)

texas_water_2010Texas Water 2010 is billed as the “Largest regional water conference in the U.S.,” this annual meeting is presented by the Texas Section of the American Water Works Association.


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


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