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Texas Struggles With Extreme Drought, Water Scarcity
AUSTIN, Texas, July 17, 2009 (ENS) - Texas is baking in an extensive and prolonged drought, with temperatures soaring above 100 degrees and parched soils across much of the state. In Texas Hill Country, the Guadalupe River is down by 85-90 percent from normal levels overall and is totally dry in some segments.

As a result, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality today reduced the surface water diversion to the city of Kerrville to one million gallons per day from a normal rate of 6.4 million, beginning Saturday.

"Flows on area rivers are dropping quickly due to the exceptional drought," said Al Segovia, the TCEQ’s South Texas watermaster said. "These extreme conditions are forcing the TCEQ to cut off or restrict junior rights to surface water diversions in order to supply water for critical functions."

The TCEQ requires water suppliers to develop drought contingency plans to manage water usage, reduce peak demand, and extend supplies. Kerrville has chosen to implement Stage II of its drought contingency plan, limiting lawn watering to specific days of the week, with reduced hours, and prohibiting other non-essential water use to reduce the demand on the system.

People with odd numbered addresses can water on Tuesday and Saturday, even addresses can water on Wednesdays and Sundays, but only in the early morning and evening hours. If these efforts fail to reduce usage enough, additional restrictions may be imposed.

Low water on the Guadalupe River at Kerrville, Texas (Photo by Matthew Sisson)

Kerrville residents are being asked to conserve water by using a drip irrigation system instead of sprinklers, washing full loads of dishes or laundry, and cutting back on washing vehicles.

Residents also can save water by replacing old plumbing with water saving fixtures, installing cisterns to catch rainwater for future use, and growing native plants that require a minimum of water.

What's happening in Kerrville is happening across the state. In the coastal bend area, extreme drought conditions with record high temperatures are stressing crops and livestock and ranchers are liquidating herds due to lack of forage, according to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

Across the southern and southwestern parts of the state, extremely hot, dry conditions with record high temperatures continues, broken only by a few scattered showers.

The Edwards Aquifer water level, as measured at a test well in San Antonio, dropped within 0.3 feet of the mandatory Stage III declaration requirement by the San Antonio Water System. A mandatory stage III water rationing declaration is expected soon, AgriLife Extension personnel said this week.

At least one climate scientist says Texas drought is here to stay.

Dr. Gerald North, professor of atmospheric sciences and oceanography at Texas A&M University, said Tuesday, "One thing for sure. All the climate models say things are going to get warmer in the U.S. and the rest of the world. But it's a gradual process; a kind of stagger-step trend upwards. It may warm for a few decades, then slows down, then warms again for a few decades."

Still, said North, Texas could get some relief this winter due to an El Niño ocean pattern currently building in the eastern tropical Pacific. The El Niño warming trend generally produces wet winters for the south, from Florida to Texas, he said.

But the long-term trend suggests more hot and dry summers, he said.

North bases his predictions on a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, the Nobel Prize winning UN organization composed of thousands of scientists from more than 100 countries.

"In the report are all sorts of results from climate model runs," North said, who has summarized what these computer runs mean for Texas. "What they suggest is that the tropical climates will expand northward. This seems to have been happening in the past and will continue to happen in the future," he said.

A tropical climate already exists in Central Texas during a typical summer, North said. "The last storm front comes through roughly in the middle of June, and brings with it nice rains. During those months of the summer, all we have are these blue skies and little puffy clouds, occasional little rains in the afternoon. That's tropical climate."

"As global warming proceeds – this is the theory, it's what the models say – the storm belt moves northwards," he said. "And that particularly affects us here in the summertime, when we get no fronts."

North said it is possible that the current drought is not indicative of a permanent trend, but is an anomaly, as were the droughts of the 1930s and 1950s.

"It could be just a fluke that persists for a decade," he said. "But my guess is that it's here to stay, but with fluctuations up and down."

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.

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