Texas reservoir levels poised to reach all-time lows

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COLLEGE STATION – Within two weeks, reservoir water levels could reach an all-time low throughout the state, according to Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist in, College Station.

Though drought conditions prevail, it hasn’t been “all that bad” for much of the state compared to previous drought years, Nielsen-Gammon said. The Panhandle had a fairly wet summer, as did parts of Far West Texas. There was also some useful rain in the West Central areas of the state, and much of the Coast Bend and the Coastal Plains did pretty well too.

However, some areas, most notably the northeastern quarter of the state, have been unusually dry, he said.

“But of course, even normal rainfall isn’t enough to fill reservoirs in the summertime,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “If they keep going down at the present rate, it will only take about two more weeks before they will set an all-time record for the difference between how much water they were designed to hold and how much they water they actually have in them. We continue to set records levels for this time of year, but this will be an all-time record low.”

The next two weeks could change the picture as climate models predict a tropical storm developing in the western part Gulf of Mexico about Sept. 13 -14, according to Nielsen-Gammon.

“We don’t know how strongly it will evolve or what course it will take, but that could drastically affect rainfall in South and South Central Texas,” he said. “Even if it doesn’t really develop, it could help pipe in a lot of tropical moisture and possibly seriously improve reservoir levels, especially along the Rio Grande.”

It’s rare to have tropical storms after September, but we can still get heavy rains throughout October, he said. Otherwise, the long-range forecasts don’t have much “special” happening this winter.

“We’re forecasting neutral conditions in the tropical Pacific – no El Niño or La Niña – and that means nothing is pointing us to either a very dry winter or wet winter,” he said. “So at this point, it could be a winter like we’ve been having for the past couple of years — not enough rain to end the drought, but things not getting worse either.”

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: Some areas received showers, with accumulations from 0.5 inch to 2 inches. Overall, conditions were dry. All rowcrops were harvested except for cotton. Cotton crops are showing some drought damage. Some producers were planting small grains for winter grazing. Stock-water tanks were very low. Burn bans were in effect throughout the region.

Coastal Bend: Parts of the region received scattered showers, with some damage reported from high winds. The corn harvest was complete, and the first rice harvest was almost done. Some rice farmers flooded fields for a ratoon crop, but doing so was rare due to water restrictions. Lake levels continued to drop. The cotton harvest was ongoing. Soybeans yields were decent. Preliminary yield reports for sesame were 200 to 500 pounds per acre, but many better fields were yet to be harvested. Livestock producers continued to provide supplemental feed to cattle, and were expected to continue culling herds this fall. Harvesting of hay continued, but yields were very low. Grasshoppers remained plentiful. Ponds were low or dry in most areas. Pecan yields were expected to be low in most areas.

East: The region remained hot and dry with many counties under burn bans. Drought conditions continued to worsen. Most counties received no rain. Cotton had 40 percent open bolls and was looking good. Dryland corn yields were about 110 bushels per acre, but reportedly would have been more if not for feral hog destruction. Pecans were in fair to good condition. Grazing was drying up and many producers were feeding hay, protein and energy supplements. Hay sales increased. Armyworms and grasshoppers continued to plague hayfields. Many producers put field preparations for winter pastures on hold until soil-moisture levels improved. Ponds and creeks were drying up, forcing producers to find other water sources and/or move livestock around to pastures with better water. Livestock were in fair to good condition with supplemental feeding.

Far West: Hot and dry conditions prevailed. Several days of triple-digit heat caused rangeland conditions to worsen across most of the region. Some areas received scattered showers with accumulations from a trace to 0.2 inch. Pasture forages continued to decrease in nutritional value from the lack of rain. Dryland cotton was opening bolls; irrigated cotton was getting close to being harvest-ready.

North: There were a few spotty showers, bringing some of the counties as much as 0.5 inch of rain, but generally, weather was hot and dry, and soil-moisture levels continued to be very short. Pastures were becoming extremely dry. Fertilized pastures were in decent shape, but unfertilized pastures were looking very rough. Stock-water tank levels were dropping quickly. Some producers were providing supplemental feed to cows due to the lack of or low quality of forage. Livestock were showing signs of heat stress. Livestock producers were waiting for rain to start preparing for planting winter annual pastures. The corn and grain sorghum harvests were nearly completed. A few late-planted soybean fields remained to be harvested. Cotton bolls were opening. Grasshoppers remained an issue.

Panhandle: The region was hot with no rain reported. Temperatures were in the mid 90s all week, which increased water use and evaporation. Some producers were either already planting or preparing to plant winter wheat. Producers were trying to finish up irrigating corn, grain sorghum and cotton so they can start watering the early planted wheat crop. The corn harvest was expected to start soon. Rangeland and pastures showed improvement, though growth was slowing down as summer ended. However, forage conditions remained way below normal for the region. Cattle were in good condition. Livestock producers continued weaning spring calves or preparing for the fall calving season. Horn flies continued to be a problem on cattle.

Rolling Plains: Hot, dry conditions persisted across the region, which began to take a toll on cotton. Plants were beginning to drop bolls and show signs of heat stress in the afternoons. Producers feared that without any moisture, this year’s crop may look good, but not produce. Soil-moisture levels were low, and daytime temperatures were still topping out in the high 90s. Not only were these conditions causing problems for cotton, but they were also severely stressing haygrazer. Some producers were going ahead and baling haygrazer before they lost everything. Pasture conditions remained in fair condition, but without any rain will soon become poor. Livestock were in good condition as producers began to feed hay and supplements. Some producers worried their limited supply of hay won’t last through the winter. Fall cattle work began. Stock-water tanks needed runoff water. Wheat growers were planting in some counties, but many producers were waiting for moisture before planting. Burn bans were in effect in a number of counties.

South: Soil-moisture conditions varied throughout the region. Many counties reported short to very short soil-moisture levels, but a few had adequate levels due to frequent spotty showers, such as Atascosa and Maverick counties. In the southern part of the region, Cameron County reported 90 percent adequate levels, and Willacy County 55 percent adequate and 45 percent surplus. Livestock supplemental feeding was light though steady in areas with improved forages. Rangeland and pastures improved quite a bit in areas that received more rain. In Atascosa County, the cotton harvest was underway, and peanut producers continued irrigating the crop, which was setting pods. In Frio County, cotton was nearly mature, with defoliation of early planted cotton expected to begin mid-September. In Zavala County, dryland oat and wheat producers were actively planting, taking advantage of limited soil moisture, which had been boosted by recent rain showers. Also in that county, cotton harvesting was active, with the two cotton gins very busy. Cameron County farmers were planting onions. In Hidalgo county, 1 inch to 2 inches of rain temporarily halted some cotton and sorghum harvests. Cotton harvesting, though, was completed there. In Starr County, fall cropland preparations continued.

South Plains: Only Lubbock County received rain, and then only as isolated showers, bringing as much as 1 inch to the southwest corner of the county. All other counties reported warm, dry conditions. Crops were maturing, with some dryland cotton showing drought stress by midday. Some cotton opened bolls. The corn harvest in Hockley County began with decent yields. Most producers were still irrigating crops, with many trying to decide when to stop pumping. Peanut producers reported average and above-average yields. Late-planted sunflowers were heading out, with some in very early bloom. Some producers began planting wheat in fields where there may not be enough moisture for germination. Pasture and rangeland needed rain to maintain current grazing levels and recover from fire damage. Livestock were mostly in good condition.

Southeast: Overall, soybeans were in good condition and cotton fair. Soil-moisture levels were short to very short, while rangeland and pastures were in very poor condition, with the exception of Brazoria and San Jacinto counties. In those counties, soil moisture was adequate, and rangeland and pastures good to excellent. The cotton harvest began in many areas. Montgomery County received a few showers that helped forages and trees. Some of the showers were heavy, but most brought less than 1 inch of rain. Burleson, Brazoria, Lee and Walker counties received limited scattered showers in some areas. Fort Bend County received 0.75 inch of rain, scattered across the county.

Southwest: The region received scattered showers, with some areas getting 1.5 inches and others getting none. The light rains maintained soil-moisture levels, but were not enough to prevent a decrease in overall available grazing in pastures and rangeland. Surface and groundwater supplies remained significantly low. The cotton harvest began with good yields reported. Sesame was in full bloom. Fall corn began to tassel and looked good. Overall, livestock remained in fair condition.

West Central: Hot, dry, windy conditions persisted. Highs remained in the mid to upper 90s. A few areas reported scattered showers. Soil-moisture levels continued to rapidly decline. Cotton was doing well in most areas. Some producers began planting wheat and oats. Preparations for fall planting were well underway. Corn was harvested in most areas, with yields reported poor to fair. Though growth was slow, rangeland and pastures continued to improve from recent rains. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Producers continued to cull herds due to drought conditions and the expense of increased supplemental feeding and water hauling. Stock ponds were extremely low. Pecan growers were irrigating orchards and expecting good yields.


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