Texas Emergency Management ONLINE2012 Vol. 59 No. 3

DROUGHT UPDATE: CONSERVATION STILL KEY

State Conservation Storage Statistics
Click on image to enlarge
This chart shows total Conservation Storage for the reservoirs in the state. The green horizontal line shows storage for 2010 and the blue horizontal line shows storage for 2011. The purple X is the storage level for January 2012, another record low monthly reading.

The 2011 drought brought us the hottest and driest summer on record for Texas. No other single year drought in our state’s history has been as destructive. From towns running out of water to millions of acres of dry land and close to $6 billion dollars in agricultural losses, no community has been immune to the drought’s devastating effects. And it isn’t over.

Reports from officials at state environmental agencies conclude that a few inches of unexpected rain in individual areas of the state does not mean Texas is out of a drought. The need to minimize water use and extend current reserves while researching ways to increase supply to meet future demand is more important than ever.

Since 2000, the state’s population has increased by 12.7 percent, nearly twice that of the nation (6.4 percent), according to the Texas Comptroller’s Office. The metropolitan areas have seen the most growth. From El Paso to Texarkana and Amarillo to Brownsville, towns that are rapidly increasing in population are looking to meet resource needs – with water topping the list. 

During a recent meeting at the State Operations Center, Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, the state’s climatologist, said that much of the nation is in a drought stretching from Arizona to North Carolina, and Kansas to Central Mexico. Texas located in the center of this extensive drought is in the worst spot and particularly vulnerable.

“A lot of what will happen [to Texas] in the summer will depend on what we see this spring,” said Nielsen-Gammon. “In the summer there is always a reduction in water availability as power use goes up along with overall water consumption. It is likely that most of the state will still be in a drought by the end of this summer.”

Portions of the state have emerged from the exceptional drought category this year because of unexpected winter rainfall, however many areas of the state continue to struggle to provide adequate water for human consumption as well as for agricultural needs – not to mention storage for future use.

“We are far below the state’s average or normal storage for this time of year, which is 83 percent of total capacity,” said Brenner Brown, a management analyst in the Water Science and Conservation program area at the Texas Water Development Board. “If we were to experience a repeat of last summer’s extreme hot and dry conditions, drought impacts will be more devastating due to the low level of reservoir storage.”

reservoir storage

In an article published this year, Brown notes that adequate reservoir storage is one of the key tools in which the state has invested to help reduce the impact from reduced rainfall. According to the 2012 State Water Plan, “regional water plans reflect the recognition that major reservoir projects absolutely must remain a strong and viable tool in our water supply toolbox if the state is to meet its future water supply needs.” The map shows reservoir storage levels throughout the state. Only three out of the 10 regions show a normal to high level of storage, according to analysis from January 2012.

“The fact that the state has invested heavily in water supply reservoirs has allowed the residents of Texas to weather the most severe short term drought in our history,” said Brenner. “Our reservoirs provided much needed water supplies during a very dire time. The heavy use of water from these reservoirs along with decreased rainfall and extreme high evaporation has left our reservoirs in a precarious position as we head into the time of year with historically heavy water use.

Increased rainfall has provided some needed relief. However, the drought is not over and our state’s water supply is at historic low levels. Until our reservoirs fully recover and show sufficient storage Texas will not be able to survive a repeat of the summer of 2011.”

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