The Thirsty Road Ahead: Be Thankful For Water

A Facebook friend recently forwarded this article from The Economist.

THIS year Texas had the hottest summer ever recorded in any state. In September wildfires swept through the town of Bastrop, outside Austin, destroying more than 1,000 homes. Thousands of cattle have been sold. The town of Big Spring, up the road from the oil hub of Midland, is planning to recycle wastewater for drinking; two of the reservoirs that supply the city are almost empty. The severe drought that has parched most of the state this year shows no signs of abating. The state climatologist reckons that it could last for the rest of the decade.

But the most sobering fact may be that Texas’s water woes are structural. A growing population needs more water. As it stands, the state needs about 18m acre-feet of water a year, according to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). By 2060 demand is projected to rise to 22m acre-feet a year. The available supply is expected to decline from 17m acre-feet to about 15.3m, as some aquifers are being depleted and areas of the state will come under new regulations. The TWDB forecasts a total statewide shortfall of 8.3m acre-feet by 2060, because the regions that have enough water cannot simply pipe it to the driest places. If nothing is done, it warns, the economic losses could reach $115.7 billion a year by 2060.

Source: The Economist

As I sit here on a rainy November day in Middle Tennessee, complaints about the mud and chilly breezes comes easily. This is supposed to be the month of Thanks, and we shouldn’t forget to be thankful for all of our blessings (no matter how muddy or cold). Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock in Antartica this year, I am sure you have heard the numerous stories coming out of Texas about wild fires, blazing summer heat, the endless drought and resulting water shortages and agriculture crop losses. Just imagining the 8.3m acre-feet of water shortfall mentioned above is hardly fathomable. That’s a lot of water.

Water is a pretty precious source around the globe these days. It may be hard to imagine if you’re in the middle of rising flood waters or in the path or a California mud slide, but no matter how rough times seem, there’s always someone more hard-up. As land owners, farmers and ranchers across the nation have made leaps and bounds in soil and water conservation over the last century. The simple fact that the High Plains are absent of massive dust storms in a drought reminiscent of that in the Dust Bowl Era is proof of these efforts. Farmers and Ranchers pay close attention to reduce soil erosion by providing ground cover crops and crop residues, and improve soil conservation by more efficient field nutrient application and observing buffer zones near creeks and steams. Many of their efforts go unseen by everyday consumers, despite the claims of critics.

So if you’re fortunate enough to receive some Fall moisture this month, be sure to give thanks and do your part to respect the quality of our water supply. And as always, pray for rain for those in drought stricken areas of the world.

Can you give examples of improvements in soil and/or water conservation over the last century?

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  1. It is so easy to take something as simple as water and forget how important and vital to our survival it is until you don’t have it. Living in a state that is blessed to be sitting directly over the Ogallala Aquifer and generally gets between 15 and 30 inches of rain annually it is easy to complain about the mud and the wet/soggy conditions that make tasks a little more difficult and sometimes nearly impossible. The number of cows that have left the state of Tx is hard to grasp and the sad thing is many of those cows have been perminately deleted from our ever shrinking cow herd. I got the pleasure to listen to Dr. Kenny Eng speak at a conference the other day and I believe he is correct in saying that many of the ranches in Tx will never run cows again. Hunting ranches are far more profitable than cattle ranches and other species such as goats and sheep will move their way back into some of these ranches as they require far less feed and water compared to a cow and goats are worth well over $2/lb. Economically and Ecologically it makes sense to not run cows at this time.
    This raises the question with an ever shrinking feeder calf supply and tight consumer spending how much will beef consumers be willing to pay for a steak, or a hamburger? This sell out of cows in the south will have a major impact on the rest of the beef industry, what that effect is I am not sure (I can speculate) but we will know when it is over!

  2. i have been talking/writing/jumping up and down (and screaming) that water is going to be a major problem in this century. It’s hard to make people understand that when the fields are so wet they can’t get out and plant, or they can turn on the faucet and water gushes out. We need to be aware we could run out of the things we need to live (like air, water and food) if we aren’t more careful and more concerned.

  3. No-till farming! It got its start in Kentucky in 1962. No-till conserves soil moisture, reduces run-off and erosion, builds organic matter in soil, and increases soil porosity. Overall it’s just better for the environment. No-till is also one of the reasons the Plains states aren’t experiencing another Dust Bowl over this drought.

  4. When I was in college I lived in International House. I remember sitting down one night and chatting with a fellow student from north Africa. He just could not get over how we took water for granted. He said one day you’re going to turn your faucet and nothing will happen. I’ve tried to watch my water usage ever since, but there is only so much pressure the land can take.

  5. That little severe drouth hole in the Panhandle’s donut is me! This past winter and through our growing season we had less than 3 inches of moisture total! Many of our neighbors went under this year. We had quite a few fires but for the most part we had nothing to burn. We were blessed that our NM ranch grew some grass so we were able to just cull hard and ship everything else there. Town people just have no concept what it does to you to watch your entire way of life dry up and blow away in 115 degree days with steady 45+mph winds day in and day out. This past year couldn’t even be compared to the dust bowl, it was much worse

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