There are over 150 different definitions of drought used by academics and water management professionals.  Generally, drought means there is a shortage of water available to meet demands for that water, caused by a prolonged lack of rain.  We may not be able to define it, but most of us know it when we feel it.

The worst drought in recorded Texas history began in 1950 and lasted 7 years.  By the end of 1956, 244 of Texas’ 254 counties were classified as disaster areas.  Natural springs, creeks and rivers ran dry.  Crops withered.  Reservoir capacities sank to critical levels.  Some cities exhausted their water supplies completely, and had to have their water hauled in by truck.  In response to this drought, Texas created the Texas Water Development Board, which published its first water plan in 1961.  Texas has engaged in increasingly sophisticated water planning ever since.

In the summer of 2006 the Northern and Eastern suburbs of Dallas were experiencing an 18 month drought with no end in sight. The lakes serving that area dropped to alarmingly low levels. Jim Chapman Lake was at 15% of its capacity, while Lake Lavon was at only 36%. The area was at Stage 3 Emergency, and approached a Stage 4 condition which would have eliminated all lawn watering and imposed strict rationing.  During this drought, the City of Plano issued more than 6,000 fines to “water hogs.” Fortunately, small rains came in late 2006, and then big rains recharged the area’s water resources in 2007.

In 2010, most of Texas entered an exceptional drought and by the end of the summer of 2011 all of Texas was experiencing drought to some degree.  Livestock and agricultural losses were estimated at $5.2 billion, and expected to rise. Stock tanks dried up, hungry cattle were rushed to market, crops plowed under. Junior rights in many rivers were cut off. Wildfires burned more than 3.4 million acres.

In 2011, Texas experienced the worst one-year drought in the state’s history.  In Water For Texas 2012, the state’s official water plan, the Texas Water Development Board stated that in serious drought conditions, Texas does not have enough water supplies to meet the needs of its people, businesses and agricultural enterprises.

Droughts should not catch us by surprise.  Meteorologists constantly study drought weather patterns and predict drought conditions months in advance.  I regularly follow these drought resources:

NOAA’s Drought Information Center

U. S. Drought Monitor

Palmer Drought Severity Index

Texas Reservoir Storage Capacity

Texas Water Development Board Drought Resources

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Drought Resources

State of Texas Drought Preparedness Council

Keep up with additional drought developments by subscribing to Mark McPherson’s Enviropinions blog.


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