Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

This Week in Drought: As Parts of Texas Slightly Improve, Panhandle Continues to Suffer

National Park Service

Lake Meredith is currently at a level too low for municipalities to draw water from it, according to Dr. David Brauer with the Ogallala Aquifer Research Project.

Heavy rains over Memorial Day weekend helped pull more of the state from the depths of an ongoing drought. Parts of Northeast Texas along the Red River joined the Houston area as the three percent of the state no longer under abnormally dry or drought conditions.

And while conditions also improved throughout most of the hill country, the Panhandle remained largely in the most severe stage of drought.

Dr. David Brauer, a USDA researcher who manages the Ogallala Aquifer Research Project, says the continuance of the drought is taking a major toll on the region’s already stressed water resources.

“In the Panhandle, we have one major reservoir and that’s Lake Meredith,” Brauer says. “The current level in Lake Meredith is 20,000 acre-feet. It has a capacity to hold 1.3 million acre-feet. Twenty thousand acre feet is below the level that they can draw water for a municipal use.”

Brauer says cities that usually draw water from Lake Meredith now use water from the Ogallala Aquifer. Levels in the Ogallala have had dramatic decreases this year as well. He says the area will need “some very large storms” for the reservoirs to come up in volume.

“Our best bet would be the situation we had in 2008, where we had the remnants of a Pacific hurricane come up and go through the area,” he says. “That was really, really useful. To get [Lake] Meredith up, that’s what we need.”

The majority of water pulled out from the Ogallala in the Panhandle is used to irrigate crops, Brauer says. This week’s Texas Crop and Weather report from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service said the wet weather that some of the region experienced this week also caused some crop-damaging hail.

“Yeah, we got some rain, but it was very localized,” Brauer says. “But since it came with the hail, it was really a mixed blessing.”

Brauer noted some farmers waited until after freezes in April to plant, and that some of the new plants may have suffered the worst damage by the hail.

“It’s just been one thing after another so far this Spring,” he says.

Olivia Gordon is a reporting intern with StateImpact Texas. 


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