Eyeing the drought

By Ken Esten Cooke— Weather predictions on Monday by the Lower Colorado River Authority confirm what local farmers and ranchers are dealing with daily: the historic drought will continue.

While the LCRA’s message concentrated on inflows to area lakes (Travis and Buchanan), the message was clear: continued conservation is needed throughout the Hill Country.

Lakes Travis and Buchanan need more than one million acre-feet of water to be considered “full.” That amounts to the amount of water added to the lakes in summer 2007, when 19 inches of rain fell on Marble Falls in one night.

That means rain must fall upstream, saturating the ground, then fill the network of creeks and river beds, before the water makes its way to the lakes.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for a 19-inch rainfall. The drought has taken its toll on inflows from the rivers and streams that feed the lake. LCRA says they hit an all-time low in 2011. They were the fifth-lowest ever in 2012. And they are about the same in 2013 as they were in 2011.

LCRA has done its part to manage water supplies by reducing water to most downstream farmers, so heavy water-use crops like rice may not be a Texas commodity much longer.

In planning for the future, LCRA also is looking for new sources of water in Bastrop County and plans to build an off-channel reservoir in Wharton County to add up to 90,000 acre-feet of water to the region’s water supply.

City of Fredericksburg smartly kept lawn watering restrictions in place earlier this year, when rains were more plentiful.

Droughts can affect far more than agriculture or lawn watering schedules. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is planning for a long, hot summer and wondering if planned outages will be necessary to compensate for the increased demand for electricity.

Weather patterns — including ocean temperatures, jet stream movements, winter temperatures and more — are eerily similar to those seen in the 1950s, still referred to as the time period with the drought of record.

Even with a cooler spring, weather forecasters are bracing for a hot summer, and the state is worse off, drought-wise, than it was last year.

Let’s each conserve water where we can by fixing leaky faucets and toilets, not letting water run and planting water-friendly lawns, shrubs and plants.

And, we can also pray for rain. Let’s hope that in the future the drought of record remains the one from the 1950s and not our current one.

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