Despite rains, many Texas reservoirs remain critically low
COLLEGE STATION – Though many reservoir levels were recharged in the last few months, some remain at critical levels and may soon mean hard choices for municipalities, according to a water specialist with the Texas Water Resources Institute and reports from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel.
click image to zoomMany reservoirs west of U.S. Interstate 35 remain critically low. (Texas Water Development Board graphic) While Central, East and even the Coastal Bend regions have seen large improvements to reservoir levels, parts of the North Central, Far West, West Central, Southwest and Panhandle regions are still suffering water issues, said Allen Berthold, program specialist with the institute.
In some cases, the available water supply is measured in months, and severe usage restrictions are in place, Berthold said.
“When I talked to county commissioners in the Wichita Falls area last week, I was told some cities had approximately 180 days of water left at current usage levels,” he said.
The commissioner’s court planned to supplement reservoir levels with wells, but the overall effect on long-term supplies will be minimal, Berthold said.
On Nov. 9, the city entered stage 4 drought restrictions, which included a “total ban on outdoor watering and an internal audit of business water usage,” Berthold said.
According to the Texas Water Development Board, overall, monitored reservoir levels were about 62 percent full as of Nov. 13. But the average is skewed by reservoirs generally being in fair to good shape east of U.S. Interstate 35. Many reservoirs in West Texas remain critically low. The O.C Fisher Reservoir near San Angelo was only 3.4 percent full on Nov. 13; the Twin Buttes Reservoir, empty; Millers Creek Reservoir in North Central Texas, 17.4 percent full; and Abilene Reservoir, 6.3 percent full.
Dallas and Fort Worth have seen some relief in recent months, Berthold said. Long range planning by the North Texas Municipal Water District water conservation and new supply systems are hoped to offset losses from the drought and the quarantine of Lake Texoma because of zebra mussel infestation.
For cities and rural towns not so fortunate to have a plan and funding in place, some help may be in sight, Berthold said, as Texas voters approved Proposition 6, which allowed the transfer of money from a rainy day fund. The plan proposes to reduce borrowing costs for municipalities to build and enhance water projects during the next 50 years.
The water resources institute is a part of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, AgriLife Extension, and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University.
More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Districts
Central: Small grains looked good but needed more moisture. Stock tanks and lakes needed runoff. Hay producers were taking a last cutting. The pecan harvest was sporadic.
Coastal Bend: Conditions in parts of the region improved after recent rains. The areas reporting wet conditions were building good soil-moisture levels for the next crop season. Growers continued to prepare for spring planting, reserving seed and applying fertilizer. Volunteer cotton was an issue in some places. Most farmers will need to resort to chemical control to kill cotton-stalk regrowth and seedlings. The ratoon rice harvest was interrupted by rain. Where rain was received, pastures continued to improve. However, pastures in other areas were deteriorating. Where there was soil moisture, producers were planting winter pastures. In some instances, producers were trying to take a last cutting of hay. Ponds were full in many areas. The pecan harvest was ongoing with fair yields reported.
East: All parts of the region received rain as a cold front moved through. Soil-moisture levels rose. Pond and creek levels were replenished. Heavy rain in some areas caused flooding. With the rain and cooler temperatures, winter pastures made good progress. Some producers expected to have their cattle grazing winter pastures by mid-November. Hay harvesting was mostly completed. A few producers had hoped for dry weather to get a final cutting. Livestock were in good shape with some receiving supplemental feeding. Cattle were calving, and calves were being weaned. Feral hogs were on the move and very active.
Far West: Fall weather arrived with the first freeze on Nov. 6. The cooler weather caused trees and grasses to enter dormancy, while winter forbs emerged after recent rains. Farmers were actively harvesting cotton. Alfalfa growers were about to take a final cutting. Pecan growers were preparing equipment for harvest.
North: Soil-moisture levels ranged from adequate to surplus. Across the region, rainfall averaged 0.5 inch to 2 inches. Daytime temperatures dropped into the 50s and 60s, and many counties had their first hard frost, with nighttime lows in the mid-30s. With lower temperatures, warm-season forages became dormant. The rain was very beneficial for small grains and winter annual pastures, but soils in some areas were saturated, which slowed down planting of small grains. In Hunt County, for example, only 10 percent of the intended wheat acres was planted due to wet conditions. Stock ponds in many counties were full to overflowing. Livestock were in good condition. Titus County reported increased feral hog activity.
Panhandle: Temperatures were up and down, but generally, days were mild and nights cool. Some moisture was received early in the week. Amounts ranged from a trace to a little more than 1 inch. The corn and sorghum harvests were winding down. The harvesting of cotton began in some counties. Winter wheat planting continued, with earlier plantings being irrigated. Sunflowers were also being harvested. Rangeland and pastures were mostly in fair condition. Hansford County reported pastures were showing much better cover and seed crop than the last two years. Cattle on pasture were in good shape.
Rolling Plains: Cool, damp weather prevailed, with some areas receiving rain. The rain helped pastures, rangeland and winter wheat, but put a damper on the cotton harvest. Only a small percentage of cotton was harvested, but producers were gearing up to begin harvesting on a large scale within a week. Northern parts of the region had a hard freeze, which was what cotton growers were waiting for. With the cotton crop two to three weeks late, producers had only defoliated a few acres that were ready to harvest, and were holding off on the rest in hopes of a late freeze. The cotton crop looked promising, especially after the past couple of years without a crop. For the counties that received moisture, winter wheat was coming along very nicely. However, counties that missed out on the rain reported wheat was starting to show moisture stress. Wheat pastures needed more root development before allowing grazing. Pastures were in the same need of moisture as winter grasses and forages began to emerge. Fall cattle work wound down. The grain sorghum harvest was ongoing. Lakes and stock tanks needed runoff.
South: Soil-moisture conditions were short to adequate throughout the region. The northern counties had mild and humid weather with some light showers. The peanut harvest was ongoing, as was the planting of wheat and oats. Rangeland and pastures generally remained in fair to good condition, with some areas still suffering from drought. Shorter days and cooler temperatures limited warm-season grass growth. Body condition scores on cattle remained good to fair. In the western part of the district, conditions remained favorable, but the counties there could definitely use more rain. Soil-moisture conditions were reported as mostly short. The baby spinach harvest was expected to begin soon. More spinach was being planted. Onions, wheat and oats all made significant progress. The pecan harvest was completed for the season at week’s end in some areas. Rangeland and pastures on the better-managed ranches had good grazing. Some stock tanks were full while others were completely dry. Ranchers with higher stocking levels were increasing supplemental feeding. Most ranches continued to be de-stocked or very lightly stocked. Cabbage harvesting was active. The eastern counties received 2 to 4 inches of rain. The southern part of the region had mild weather with 0.5 to 2.5 inches of rain. Fall vegetable crops were progressing well.
South Plains: The cotton harvest was in full swing and expected to be completed before the end of the year in most counties. Some areas already had a killing freeze, while others were expecting their first as a strong cold front moved through the area. Most irrigated cotton producers reported better-than-expected yields, and gins were running full time to keep up. The grain sorghum harvest was more than half done, with good to excellent yields reported due to timely rains during the growing season. In the northern part of the region, winter wheat benefitted from the recent rains and was in fair condition. Some producers were just now planting winter wheat, while others were waiting to finish their cotton harvest before planting wheat as a cover crop. The corn harvest was finished, with very sporadic yields reported. Pasture and rangeland were in desperate need of moisture in some areas. Livestock were generally in fair to good condition.
Southeast: Several counties reported heavy rains. In Brazos County, the Navasota River overflowed its banks, causing flooding. Soil-moisture levels throughout the region ranged from 50 percent adequate to 100 percent surplus. Cooler morning temperatures and shorter days slowed the growth of warm-season grasses. High temperatures ranged from 60s to 80s, with lows in the 50s. Livestock were in good shape, with hay continuing to be harvested. A few farmers were still planting winter wheat.
Southwest: The region continued to receive spotty showers along with cooler temperatures. Fall armyworms remained a problem in pastures and hayfields. Growers were off to a good start planting wheat and oats. Livestock producers began feeding hay along with some other supplemental feeds. Bucks were in heavy rut and had been running for more than a week, a good situation for hunters.
West Central: The region had mild days with cool nights. Only a mild frost was reported in a few areas, but the first heavy freeze was expected soon. Some counties had scattered showers. The cotton harvest was proceeding well, but cool, wet conditions slowed it down in many areas. Winter crops, including wheat and cool-season forages, were off to a good start. There was some late-season hay baling and planting of small grain fields. Rangeland and pastures were in good condition, but the cool temperatures slowed growth of warm-season grasses. Some producers were already turning livestock into wheat and oat fields for grazing. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. The pecan harvest was ongoing with moderate yields reported.
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