According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), by October 2011, 97% of Texas was under extreme or exceptional drought status, including all or part of every county in Texas. By February 2012 conditions had improved somewhat statewide; a handful of counties in north Texas were officially out of drought status. However, over 75% of the state still suffered through dire drought conditions.
By the end of 2013, the drought picture looked brighter. Nearly 30% of the state had cleared drought status, and less than half of the state was considered to be in moderate drought. Some parts of the state had even experienced significant precipitation events in 2013, including historic blizzards as well as severe weather and flooding. But much of that precipitation came in isolated, single events, and we’re drying out.
As of February, 88% of the state is at least abnormally dry. 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. According to TCEQ, 1,136 community water systems continue to be affected by drought. 751 community water systems have imposed mandatory water use restrictions. The city of Wichita Falls imposed unprecedented Stage 4 drought restrictions. Sixty-eight counties have imposed burn bans.
The National Weather Service predicts that “numerous heavy rain events will be needed to prevent a fourth consecutive summer with water supply concerns.” However, with “long-term outlooks not favoring above normal precipitations,” the drought is likely to continue through summer.
January 2014 was the driest January in Central Texas since the 1950s. North Texas only saw .33 inch of rain; the 12th driest in history. Nearly every reservoir across north and central Texas remains below conservation levels. The state’s reservoir capacity is at 64%; it is normally at 82% this time of year.
Photo courtesy Bobby Magill, ClimateCentral.org
Inflow into the Highland Lakes in Central Texas, for example, is at near record lows. The combined storage of Lakes Buchanan and Travis are down to 37%, forcing the Lower Colorado River Authority to request an emergency amendment to its water plan so it could implement restrictions to how much water is allowed to flow through the Colorado River to south Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. These restrictions pose a significant economic impact on agriculture downstream as well as the delicate ecosystems in the estuaries and bays on the Texas coast.
The population keeps growing.
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. From July 2012 to July 2013, 387,000 people moved to Texas. 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.
The state is currently revising the Drought Annex (formerly named the State Drought Preparedness Plan), which will be completed spring of 2014. The State Drought Preparedness Council and the Emergency Drinking Water Task Force have conducted drought workshops and seminars across the state since 2011, providing support and technical assistance to local jurisdictions and water suppliers grappling with drought issues and water shortage emergencies.
Voters approved Prop 6, which allotted 2 billion dollars from the rainy day fund to the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund (SWIRFT). These funds help lower the cost of borrowing for water suppliers that require assistance in securing new sources of water or improving existing infrastructure allowing more water projects to move forward.
HB 252-Requires a retail public utility and each entity from which the utility is obtaining wholesale water service for the utility’s retail system shall notify the TCEQ when the utility is reasonably certain that the water supply will be exhausted in 180 days or less.
HB 857– requires each retail public water utility with more than 3300 connections to conduct a water audit annually to determine its water loss and to submit that audit to the TWDB [a retail public water utility with 3300 or less connections will continue to be required to conduct and submit a water audit once every five years computing the utility’s system water loss during the preceding year] – the initial annual water audit must be submitted by May 1, 2014.
HB 3604– requires an entity to implement its water conservation plan and its drought contingency plan, as applicable, when it is notified that the Governor has declared its respective county or counties as a disaster area based on drought conditions; clarifies the authority of TCEQ to enforce this requirement [previously the law only required the entity to implement either plan, despite the fact that water conservation should be an ongoing activity as contrasted to short-term responses to drought conditions; during the 2011 drought a number of entities in drought disaster areas reportedly did not implement mandatory water use restrictions]
SB 198– prevents a property owners’ association (HOA) from prohibiting or restricting a property owner from using drought-resistant landscaping or water-conserving natural turf but allows an HOA to require the property owner to submit a detailed description of a plan forthe installation of such landscaping or turf for review and approval by the HOA to ensure to the extent practicable maximum aesthetic compatibility with other landscaping in the subdivision; the legislation also states that the HOA may not unreasonably deny or withhold approval of the plan or unreasonably determine that the proposed installation is aesthetically incompatible.
More information and helpful links:
Lower Colorado River Authority. Drought Conditions
Texas Water Development Board. Texas Water Conditions 2014 (PDF)
2012 State Water Plan
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Drought Conditions
Texas Comptroller’s Office: The Impact of the 2011 Drought and Beyond
Texas Drought Preparedness Council: State Drought Preparedness Plan (PDF)
United States Geological Survey: Real-Time Texas Lake and Reservoir Levels