Texas Emergency Management ONLINE2013 Vol. 60 No. 8

DROUGHT SITUATION IN TEXAS

Drought

Starting in 2011, Texas has broken records when it comes to drought with 2011 being the single worst single year drought on record to 2012 being the warmest year.  It has been during this time that the State Drought Preparedness Council (DPC), the state’s coordinating body of all state drought activities, has taken the lead in the development of new processes, technology and forecasting to help local jurisdictions mitigate drought’s drastic effects.

With the effects of 2011 still being felt and the start 2012 not looking any better the DPC knew that it had to take a different approach in how information was passed to local jurisdictions and their elected officials. In the past, the council relied on monthly situational reports to disseminate information regarding Texas agriculture production, effects on wildlife and water reservoir status but with a drought like Texas had never seen before it knew it had to try something different.

Drought

In March of 2012, the DPC decided to hold a workshop in west Texas to include local emergency managers and elected officials, the National Weather Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to discuss how Texas should respond to the drought. Attendees were driven to various lakes in the area to see firsthand how such vast areas of water had dwindled down to small ponds. The mayor of a small town just up the road from these lakes spoke on how their citizens cut consumption by up to 80% as they watched their lake levels drop and how their citizens pulled together to lay their own pipeline when financial means were not an option. Expectations of what agencies could bring to entities such as this small town were discussed and the results set the tone for the next year as the council prepared to take what was learned and present across the state

Drought

Managing preexisting expectations in the beginning was difficult. Most local jurisdictions dealing with the State know of the resources that it can provide through emergency activations and declarations and while the drought is an emergency it is a slow moving one. Many funds, grants and financial assistance that usually come through disaster declarations do not apply. Dealing with drought is more of a mitigation process.  Drought is seen as somewhat preventable given enough time but, as we found out with many Texas cities, time has a way of creeping up.

The Emergency Drinking Water Taskforce (EDWTF) was created under the revised Annex A to the State of Texas Drought Annex as a means to bridge the gap between cities looking for support to respond to imminent threats to water supply. The EDWTF is a group of representatives of TDEM, TCEQ, TWDB and TDA who meet at least on a weekly basis to support local water systems in identifying and obtaining a new water supply once it notifies the council or TCEQ that it will exhaust its supply of potable drinking water in 180 days or less. The Task Force, chaired by TDEM, with operational oversight given to the TCEQ, is responsible for coordinating information and activities related to public water systems and water rights considerations. These functions are:

  • Tracking systems that have reported they expect to run out of water in 180 days or less
  • Providing technical assistance, identifying alternative sources of water, coordinating with the TWDB and TDA to identify funding sources and facilitate their funding application processes, expediting the permitting process, or managing senior water rights calls. *In 2011-2012, the TCEQ expedited 123 reviews of plans and specifications for water related projects for drought stricken public water systems
  • Supporting the local public system’s attempts to obtain a new supply of water with the systems using such means as implementing and enforcing the water systems’ restrictions, moving the deeper into the resource pool, establishing an interconnection with a nearby water system, reestablishing a previously used well, drilling a new well, establishing a new source of water and/or groundwater via pipeline, inter-basin transfers, desalination through temporary lines, hauling treated water from another public water system, or hauling untreated water for insertion into a water system’s holding tank or reservoir.

The task force is one of the best tools the DPC has to offer the state of Texas. It is through them that the council sees a clearer picture of the needs across the state and intern we are able to go where it is needed the most. Some of the workshops highlights are:

  • In 2012 the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality,  Texas Water Development Board, Texas Department of Agriculture, and TDEM presented 8 drought awareness and emergency-planning workshops for local government officials, board members, and water-system operators
  • In 2012-Drought Council Members attended a Water Forum, hosted by the University of Texas at Austin, where council members addressed the academic community forging essential relationships.
  • In 2012-Members of TDEM were invited to speak at the Natural Hazards Conference in Denver, Colorado to share best practices and lessons learned from Texas’ response to the historic drought.
  • February 2013-The Council hosted a Water Summit regarding drought and the future of Texas. Taryn Finnessey from the Colorado Water Conservation Board was invited to speak as a means to share best practices and lessons learned in state’s drought response and planning efforts.

The State of Texas is now enduring its third consecutive drought year. Meteorologists agree that the situation will only get worse before it gets better. The Drought Preparedness Council will remain active and proactive to help but, as the council has come to learn, it is up to the citizens of the this great state to begin to do their part in the conservation and preservation of Texas’s most precious resource.

For Further information please see:
http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/
http://www.twdb.state.tx.us/surfacewater/conditions/drought/index.asp
http://www.epa.gov/naturalevents/drought.html

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