Hector Salinas, superintendent of the Beeville Water Supply District’s George P. Morrill Water Treatment Plant, and local farmers say they got a little relief. But not enough for them to be too optimistic.
At the same time, officials at the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center (CPC) are saying the rain situation could improve by this summer.
“Oh great,” said farmer Troy Berthold. “Just when we get ready to harvest the rain comes along and messes up what little crop we have.”
It has happened before. In early July 2007 and 2010, just when grain crops were ready for the combines, rains kept farmers out of their fields and moist air caused the grain heads to sprout, damaging the quality of the crops.
According to a report offered by John Metz of the National Weather Service office in Corpus Christi, there is a 40 percent chance that the current La Niña condition affecting South Texas with extended dry weather will start changing to an El Niño pattern and moisture will return to this part of the state.
That would be great news to the City of Beeville crews who operate the Morrill Water Treatment Plant at Swinney Switch.
Salinas said Thursday that the Nueces River, where the BWSD draws its surface water supply for Beeville, is up by about 1.1 feet this week after last week’s rains.
Although the water coming downriver to Lake Corpus Christi is still muddy, Salinas said it is beginning to clear up.
The superintendent said he was not sure if rains that had fallen upriver, in the Cotulla and Uvalde areas, had reached the city’s raw water intake structure yet. But that could increase lake levels some.
Yet, lake levels are still down and Salinas said the city will remain in drought condition 3.
That means Beeville residents may only water their yards and gardens every five days and refrain from watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Also, no one may allow water to run off their yards and down the gutters in the streets. And leaky plumbing fixtures must be repaired.
According to the latest figures from the City of Corpus Christi Water Department, Choke Canyon Reservoir was at 59.7 percent of capacity and Lake Corpus Christi was at 33.9 percent of capacity.
That was down from last year’s levels of 75.2 percent for Choke Canyon and 74.1 percent for Lake Corpus Christi.
Still, farmers and ranchers will be most affected by the lack of rain this year. And this year’s drought follows a seriously dry year in 2011.
The difference, according to farmer Thomas Mengers, is that last year there was some subsurface moisture for the crops, even though the soil closer to the surface was dry.
Mengers confirmed that the corn and grain sorghum (milo) crops are just about burned up in the fields this year. Also, he sees little help for the cotton. When cotton was planted this year, there was some moisture about a foot into the soil. But soon the roots of the cotton plants will reach lower than that and all they will find when they get that deep will be powder-dry dirt.
Mengers said he does not expect much of a crop this year.
Berthold said he saw the current conditions coming this year and did not plant corn or cotton. He invested all his effort in planting grain sorghum. But much of that has little chance of making a decent crop this year.
“We’re just really dry,” Berthold said. “We really just didn’t have any underground moisture.”
He said some parts of South Texas will have better luck this year.
“You go five miles north of me and they got a three-inch rain,” the farmer said.
Berthold does expect a light crop, but yields will not be much this year. “We’re going to make something out here, but it won’t be the best.”
He said all people have to do is drive out west and every creek they cross they’ll find the ground a little dryer.
If El Niño does return this year, that means the wet weather coming off the Pacific Ocean will split as it hits the California coast and dump moisture on the southern states and northern part of the North American Continent. It will result in a milder winter for the northern portions of the United States and South Central Canada.
The current La Niña pattern has lingered longer this time than normal. La Niña conditions usually last nine to 12 months while El Niños linger for about a year.
The two world-affecting weather conditions are caused by temperatures in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of northernSouth America. Cooler water near the equator causes La Niña and the opposite situation causes El Niño.
With dropping aquifers, dried up stock ponds and seriously low lake levels, there is no doubt that South Texas needs the rain an El Niño would bring.
“Bottom line,” Metz admitted, “we’re going to need a lot more rain in your area to overcome this drought. We either need a tropical system to bring rain, or will have to wait until next winter/spring before the pattern changes, if El Niño does in fact develop.”
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.