As of Friday, the Waco area had received measurable precipitation for 10 of the past 13 days. Before Thursday, it had been a while since we had seen the sun. The late-winter storms that pounded the area have had people praying for better weather.
To be specific, Lord, we mean warmer weather.
In spite of recent precipitation, McLennan County remains in a moderate drought. In fact, more than 60 percent of Texas remains in a drought — the same one we’ve been in since late 2010. The U.S. Drought Monitor’s latest report, dated March 3, showed the drought in Texas was retreating in many areas, but ever so slowly over the past six months. We’ve had some beneficial moisture this winter, and as we enter the rainy season here in Central Texas, there is hope that the El Niño weather phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean will send more such systems our way this spring.
Thanks to all the ice, sleet and snow we’ve endured recently, moisture levels in the soil are high and any additional rainfall — here or elsewhere across the state — will create runoff and help increase water levels in our state’s reservoirs.
According to the Brazos River Authority, more areas of the state (just over 38 percent) have escaped the drought than at any time since 2011. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows 80 percent of McLennan County classified as being in moderate drought, with the rest being “abnormally dry.” Statewide, lake levels are at 66 percent capacity. As of Friday, Lake Waco was 89 percent full — down a little more than two feet from normal.
Droughts are nothing new to Texas. They happen with alarming regularity every four to five years here. In the 1950s, a particularly bad dry spell lasted seven years and, according to reports at the time, touched off the modern era of water conservation in Texas. Yet the BRA reported that in 1957 more than 10 inches of rain fell over its Possum Kingdom Lake reservoir in four days. What was an alarmingly low lake opened its flood gates less than two weeks later.
We haven’t seen a drought-busting system like that in a few years. There has been no rain-making hurricane in the gulf, no stationary low pressure system like we saw in 2007, to ignite a prolonged, widespread rain event over most of the state.
Texas has always been a big and populous state, but not like it is today and certainly not like it will be in the future. State Demographer Lloyd Potter released a report last week detailing how the state’s population will double to 54.4 million people over the next 25 years.
More people, more infrequent drought-busting events. That means more trouble.
Voters in 2012 overwhelmingly approved spending $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund for water conservation and development projects. The State Water Plan can be accessed at the Texas Water Development Board’s website and is recommended reading for everyone who lives here — or plans to move here. It includes a number of innovative ideas to combat evaporation, repurpose wastewater and set in motion long-term plans to provide adequate water for the state. The city of Waco has become a leader in groundbreaking projects to repurpose wastewater.
Our current drought may be waning, but it’s far from over. With ample moisture in the soil, the timing is right for additional rainfall to help fill up lakes and ponds across most of the state. Perhaps we can manufacture a small hurricane and park it over Wichita Falls for a week, since that appears to be the only way to recover from the “exceptional drought” that has plagued that area of the state for four years.
March, April and May are our wettest months of the year. We’re certainly ready for winter to be done, but remember — we still need rain.
Steve Boggs is editor of the Tribune-Herald. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.