May 26 2012
Although parts of Texas are now officially out of or nearly out of drought, over 80 percent of the state is still in the three worst categories of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. With several reservoirs at historic lows, the drought is still a top priority for the Texas Water Development Board 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 September 4 and was the most destructive wildfire in state history. The 34,000-acre inferno destroyed over 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 to farmers and ranchers. The intense heat and rainfall deficits resulted in the costliest drought in Texas history.
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 over 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 $5,000,000 in community development block grants available to water suppliers experiencing emergency supply shortages. The TWDB also provided $2,750,000 in financial assistance to the city of Robert Lee to build a pipeline for emergency water supplies.
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