Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Texas Drought Forecast to Continue, Perhaps For Years

 view of the dry bed of the E.V. Spence Reservoir in Robert Lee, Texas October 28, 2011.

Photo by REUTERS/Calle Richmond /LANDOV

view of the dry bed of the E.V. Spence Reservoir in Robert Lee, Texas October 28, 2011.

Recent rains have brought some relief to some parts of Texas afflicted by drought, especially around Central Texas: reservoir levels are a little higher, and the moisture has greened vegetation that was previously tinderbox-dry, potentially reducing the risk of wildfires this summer.

Now for some bad news: national meteorologists expect the drought to continue or worsen through late summer and early fall in Texas, and ocean patterns are troublingly similar to those during the “drought of record” in the 1950s.

Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its latest drought forecast. It predicts the drought will persist or intensify in most of Texas from July through October. But there is one exception — in Far West Texas, August and September rains are expected to bring some relief to an area from Midland to El Paso, according to NOAA meteorologist Victor Murphy.

Is there reason to believe that the drought will continue well beyond the fall? The forecasts are not out yet, but ocean conditions indicate that continued drought is a possibility.

“The way decadal circulation patterns are setting up, the Atlantic Ocean is warmer than normal, and there’s circulation on the Pacific Ocean, which has gone cooler than normal,” Murphy says. “When those two match up—they should be in sync the next five years or so—those are the conditions that existed back in the 1950s. There’s a distinct possibility, I’m not saying it’s a probability, but there’s a possibility this [drought] could extend for another couple of years.”

Statewide, reservoir levels are at about 64 percent of their full capacity—the lowest levels at this time of year since 1990, according to Murphy. Reservoir levels are about 10 percentage points lower now than they were last summer. Evaporation could further reduce lake and reservoir levels if fall temperatures are higher than average, as they are predicted to be.

season_drought (1)

What can Texans do to adapt to the drought? Murphy said that using less water will be essential.

“There really is a lot of stress due to evaporation on area lakes,” Murphy said. “The amount of water that’s lost on area reservoirs and lakes due to evaporation is very significant. As we see these warmer-than-normal temperatures going forward, that should continue to be a significant stress on surface reservoirs.”

In response to the devastating drought in the 1950s, water planners doubled the number of reservoirs in Texas. Now, some Texas cities, water districts, and companies are considering the construction of new reservoirs. And voters will have the chance to vote on setting aside more money for water projects this fall. But in arid parts of the state, Murphy said, reservoirs may lose more water than they collect—raising questions about whether new reservoir construction is sensible policy.

“Is it good public policy to build these large surface reservoirs, especially in the Central and Western parts of the state, where so much of the water is lost due to evaporation? And you don’t really get that much recharge because the yearly rainfall is not that high?” Murphy asked. “Basically, it’s a negative curve. The amount of water you lose due to evaporation is greater than the amount of water that comes in due to replenishment.”


  • Jack Wolf

    This headline should not be a surprise to anyone that has been following global warming projections. Scientists stated this would happen decades ago and it will get a lot worse. But, denial and transference rules in the USA, especially in Texas.
    As to the reservoirs, build them narrow and deep, but I still think in the long run, Texas is unsustainable.

    • geronl

      California is unsubstainable

      • TruckerMark

        California is unsustainable. In fact, two different major scientific water supply sustainability studies in 2011 and 2012 have shown that California is facing a 40% water-supply shortage by 2050. Arizona, southern Colorado southern Nevada, most of New Mexico, New Mexico, southern Utah, and most of western and southwestern Texas are also in the not sustainable at this point category.

        Worse yet, most of northern or central Mexico is in even worse shape too. There is plainly no spare water to continue to grow cities with, and eventually there will have to be some hard choices made of who gets water and who doesn’t.

        There will come a time in the near future where farmers will forced to grow only low water use crops, and eventually it appears that the water rights of a lot of agricultural land could be seized in order to meet urban demand, increasingly after year-round indoor hydroponic agriculture near and within cities reduces the value of outlying farmland and crops grown in dirt,

        Last but not least comes an exodus of catastrophic proportion first away from farming towns and cities, and then away from major urban areas rendered non-viable by ever increasing water supply shortages. Numerous researchers are calling for a flood of water scarcity refugees that could number 30-50 million out of Mexico by 2050-2060, which will overwhelm the water supply and food supply sustainability of the entire greater US southwest.

        So, there you have it, by 2050 to 2060 it all the time that we have to greatly increase our water supply, or everything south of I-40 and west of I-35 is basically non-viable at its present size. Las Vegas and southern Nevada, as well as southern Utah, western Oklahoma, western Kansas, and southeastern Colorado are also included in this forecast. We just don’t have enough water supply.
        We can’t keep draining aquifers, and we can’t continue to rely on surface supplies, as annual runoff has been declining for several decades. Today desalinization costs over $2500 per acre-foot, which would raise the cost of most vegetables grown by 60-90 cents per pound. Imagine your water bill and food costs exploding by 4-5 times their current costs within 40-50 years, plus the cost of any power still generated by fossil fuels, while wages, still held flat by our lackluster economic recovery, most likely increase little.

        It is a forecast for most of such society to end up poor and then desperate, as the cost of living spirals at an out of control rate while property values take an immense hit. Who are you going to sell your property to when it costs 5 times as much as it does today to live there and water supplies are facing ever-more severe extreme shortages, just as immense hordes of south of the border water-scarcity refugees begin to flood into town desperate for their survival?

        Yes, there is a critical lack of long-term sustainability all across the greater US southwest and across most of Mexico too, and time is quickly running out to do anything about it too!

  • John F

    Can’t say I agree with most of what Jack Wolf says but narrow, deep reservoirs does seem to be the best idea.

    • watergy

      Building-scale, rather than watershed-scale, rainwater harvesting is a strategy that would create “reservoirs” that won’t suffer the evaporative losses that conventional reservoirs do. So massive proliferation of building-scale RWH is suggested as the new water supply paradigm.

  • EnviroMedia

    Ever heard of a megadrought? It’s one that last 1-2 decades. Yikes. let’s hope that’s not what we’re in (5 years so far) but plan for one just in case. Water efficiency is the key.

  • Bean

    I currently live in north Texas that has completely unsustainable water levels at this point, if this drought continues another year, we will have zero value homes and unthinkable living conditions. If that happens, I will get down on my knees and pray for a devastating tornado to wipe us out, at least those that survive can leave this GOD forsaken place….

    • geronl

      It would all work out if we could the unproductive people to leave for greener pastures.

      • David B. Pittard

        right, since if they left, it would rain more.

        • geronl

          Fewer people to drain [pardon the pun] our water resources

          • David B. Pittard

            and who are the unproductive people? Everybody in high school or below, of course, and all the non-working wives (or husbands), and everybody who has retired! And all the disabled and sick people! Yeah, unproductive people. Let’s get rid of them. Really good idea. Are we going to put them on a train to some concentration camp? Think maybe Louisiana or Oklahoma will take them in?

  • geronl

    Texas has always been a hot and dry place. There are only 2 natural lakes in the whole freaking state. Stop buying the hoax people.

    • einnor76

      You couldn’t be more wrong. For instance Austin has higher average rainfall than Seattle.

      • dave777

        wrong again, but that wouldn’t be the first time a global warming stat was “misspoken”. In fact Seattle gets about 5 inches more rain on avg than Austin, but that isn’t even the important facts left out. After all, 5 inches even if it would represent 13% more rainfall on avg, doesn’t account for all that much. No, the real difference between Seattle and Austin that has been omitted here is where the “hoax” for global warming activists comes into play. The simple difference here would be avg SUNNY DAYS. Although this doesn’t account for higher avg temps in Austin, higher air absorption rates, more consistent rainfall in Seattle (avg days of rain 83 for Austin and 150 for Seattle) or shear water retention rates because of soil and plant life differences, it is still enough of a scientific omission of fact to startle those of us who might actually want the facts to lead in our opinions and not our opinions leading the facts. Here in Texas we call that “getting the cart before the horse” and since the only logical way a horse can pull a cart is from the front, well need I say more. People, we need the facts. All of them! And when talking about something as complex and diverse as global warming, the less we need to be making over reaching statements based on “simple” singular facts. If you have a hard time understanding why people like us don’t buy into the whole global warming diadem its precisely why so many have bought into it with total faith. The word “lemming” comes to mind here. Anyone who knows anything about the amount of money that’s involved here will tell you, “don’t believe everything you here”. I could go on for days with facts that support what I believe, but something tells me I would be wasting my time. Instead of discussing whether facts, we should be discussing the human nature and ulterior motive and we would get to more of the truth!

  • James Hadden

    More than twenty years ago, my late wife, Susan, attended meeting intended to establish a plan to deal with drought(s) in Texas. Afterward, she commented to me that my colleague-resentative from TNRCC “was a stupid woman”. Clearly, even then, the business interest that drove (and still do) TNRCC/TCEQ dictated a ‘party line’ that my colleague was all to ready to parrot.

  • Morris Creedon-McVean

    The State, under the influence of Gov Perry, is deceiving the people in Travis County is a serious and dangerous way. The State web site says that Lake Travis is 30% full (600 feet) which would be 260 feet. Anyone can see it is nothing but an empty pit. The only water is just behind the dam, and it is full of sediment as to be unusable. With this kind of bold face lie about Travis, how much is in Buchanan is a guessing game, but there is every reason to believe it is far less than the State reports. My calculations, assuming there is 30% less water in Buchanin than reported is that we will run dry in 6 mos. If there is only 50% of what is reported, we could dry in 3 mos. I believe that keeping this information from the public, which concerns a recourse necessary for life, constitutes manslaughter when people die during the panicked migration.For 2013, the inflows into the reservoirs are nearly as low as 2011, when the inflows were a record shattering 10% of normal. Add loss from evaporation and the fact the bottom 10% is unusable because fo sediment, and the available water is frightening. Our average usage for the last 4 years is 400,000 acre/feet, with a slight upward trend. This confirms that no one is conserving, despite the fact that we are in the 8th year of what is now the most severe drought is the history of Central Texas. How can the Water Commision still have us at stage 2 water restriction? But it hardly matters, there is no effort to enforce stage 2. Apathy and incompetence is a dangerous combination. We still use 25% of our water on grass. To me that is the height of absurdity. Power usage is also holding steady; and electricity and water are essential the same because we cannot generate power without water to cool the Turbines. The city is marching towards anarchy as we will run out of power and water at the same time, and no one is prepared. No government organization at any level or any non-government organization even had a plan to make a plan to deal with the sudden unexpected anarchy. A remarkable passive suicide of a county of 1.7 million people. Thousands will perish during the panicked migration.

  • Morris Creedon-McVean

    Agree 100% with Jack Wolf.

  • AkronRonin

    The same mentality in the US that reveres willful ignorance and arrogance over informed foresight and planning is what got us into this mess in the first place. Only a reversal these values might save us. But even then, we will likely have to reap the bitter harvest of the seeds we have sown for so long.

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