An Update On The Drought

Scorched corn field - Castroville, Texas

In case you have noticed, it still hasn’t rained.  As the days get hotter and consistent rain fall feels more and more like a distant memory, we’re being bombarded by news stories about the impact of the drought in Texas.

If you think this dry summer is just a blip in the radar, think again.  This drought is threatening to eclipse the often referenced “drought of record” from the 1950s, which crippled much of the state in an era with significantly less population and industry.

What’s going on right now? 

River outfitters are laying off staff, family vacations are changing and Central Texas, which relies heavily on tourism dollars, is feeling the economic pain of this drought.  A New Braunfels area outfitter told the Associated Press, "Mother Nature holds the gavel at the end of the day,” and with what the State Climatologist calls the third worst drought in the history of Texas, Mother Nature is still holding on judgment.

Cattle raisers are beginning to have to sell of cattle in huge numbers.  With grass becoming scarce and hay and feed becoming expensive, ranchers can’t afford to keep their cattle.  A rancher told the Texas tribune he and most of his fellow ranchers across West Texas are looking to sell their cattle. 

Worse than selling cattle, some cattle ranchers are losing the cattle when moving them from a dry field to a wet one.  According to a United Press International story, the parched cows gorge themselves shocking their systems, causing death minutes later.

The effects of this will be felt beyond the drought as it was pointed out in a KUT story on the drought.  As ranchers look to re-enter the market after the drought, rebuilding their base herd will be expensive and difficult.

What can we do?

A few weeks ago, the Texas tribune checked into what powers the State of Texas has to help combat the effects of the drought.  While hay hotlines form the Department of Agriculture and coordinating wild fire response seem to be their primary powers during a drought, the state’s real work should be in instituting smart water policy during the Legislative Session. 

We have written about many of these in the past, but conservation and water efficiency are at the top of the list as well as smart energy/water planning.

Recent editorials in the New York Times and Austin American Statesman called for policymakers to respond to the “python-like” disaster that is the drought.  It is often overlooked as it moves slower than a hurricane, but preparing for the drought require major policy initiatives that have been lacking. 

Both pieces, smartly point out that simple measures to introduce tiered pricing to promote conservation, subsidies for low-water plumbing fixtures or rain water collection or even investments in fixing leaking infrastructure (which costs us 1 trillion gallons a year) could help put off what the Unite Nations is calling a “looming water crisis.”

An article published this week by the Texas Tribune asks if “sewage” can help solves our water problems.  Texas has been using “reclaimed water” successfully for some time.  Water recycling isn’t a cut and dry issue and should be used thoughtfully.  We wrote about this issue a few months ago.  

As we noted, water recycling should be used in conjunction with conservation so that isn’t only a vehicle to keep up with increasing demands.  Energy demands on large-scale recycling present some concerns as the process can be energy-intensive.  However, its use in homes for irrigation on site recycling present many opportunities as the technology advances. 

Needless to say, we need to explore breaking down barriers to grey-water use, including laws banning in-home use.     Until then, we may need to become more comfortable with less green grass and find some shade.

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  1. PeterB
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    And yet, the majority of Texans believe that climate change is unrelated to this drought. Best of luck in the adaptation efforts.

  2. Christiaan
    Posted August 2, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Are there laws preventing home owners from running gray water into their gardens?

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