With several reservoirs at historic lows, the drought is still a top priority for the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) and many other state agencies.
This time last year, Texas was beginning to experience the effects of what would turn out to be the most intense one-year drought in the history of our state. Wildfires, agricultural losses and water shortages started making headlines last spring.
A headline from CNN News dated April 18, 2011, read, “Fires burn across Texas with no end in sight.”
The drought raged on throughout the summer, contributing to the Bastrop County Complex fire that began on Sept. 4 and was the most destructive wildfire in state history, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The 34,000-acre inferno destroyed more than 1,600 homes and killed two people. These forest fire statistics from the Texas Forest Service demonstrate how devastating the fires were:
• 30,457 fires
• 3,993,716 acres burned
• 3,017 homes destroyed
• 2,792 other structures destroyed.
The dramatic nature of these fires caught the attention of the people of Texas as they were broadcast on local and national news.
Equally dramatic was the impact of the drought on farmers and ranchers. The intense heat and rainfall deficits resulted in the costliest drought in Texas history. According to Texas AgriLife, these are just a few of the agricultural losses:
• Livestock $3.23 billion
• Lost hay production value $750 million
• Cotton $2.2 billion
• Total Texas agricultural losses $7.62 billion
When drought extends over a period of months, the water supply is eventually affected. Many water suppliers around the state watched their water sources dry up under record high evaporation rates and record low rainfall.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reported that more than 1,000 water suppliers instituted some form of watering restrictions from last summer through March. Many communities are considering the possibility of instituting these restrictions on a permanent basis. Because several water suppliers continue to report a limited supply, they have been requesting emergency funding to access new water sources.
To assist in the relief effort, various state agencies have been activating drought response initiatives. The Texas Department of Agriculture made $5 million in community development block grants available to water suppliers experiencing emergency supply shortages.
The TWDB also provided $2.75 million in financial assistance to the city of Robert Lee to build a pipeline for emergency water supplies.
Texans are no strangers to drought. Citizens and government together must meet these water supply challenges so that we can ensure the state has the water it needs now and in the future.