Water Woes: Part One Drought History

From the dust bowl days of the 30s, floods in the 40s, years of drought in the 50s, and floods in the 70s and 80s, Texoma always seems to be in one extreme or the other.

And right now, we're in one, if not the worst drought cycles seen here.

As the weather history indicates, it doesn't happen suddenly.
So, how did we get here?

Of course, the obvious answer on how we got in this water crisis is that it just hasn't been raining enough, especially in the places Wichita Falls needs it most, the area to the west that comprises its watershed.

And while the lack of rainfall is the main reason, it's not the only factor that brought us to this point.

At the start of the new millenium, Texoma was in another extended drought, and Wichita Falls' water supply had fallen to a crisis level.

Utility Operations Manager Daniel Nix said, "During our 2000 drought, we got down to 32.6 percent in our combined lakes."

Fast forward 13 years and the lakes are approaching that low point again.

"Currently, our water situation is that we've got declining lake levels," said Nix.

But in 2000, that low point was reached in the fall, when water demand and evaporation rates were lower. And now we are in the months that typically have the highest temperatures and lowest rainfall.

Nix said, "And that's going to equate into the lake levels continuing to decline and us getting close to 30 percent, which would trigger stage four drought restrictions."

And when we reach that level, we are in drought failsafe,  def-con 4, level red, whatever you call it, it means a complete and total ban on all outside irrigation.

"And it will initiate our large industries doing water audits internally to see if and what they can conserve," says Nix.

So, how did we get to this point?

Texoma averages 28 days over 100 degrees per year. In 2011, we had 100 days. And in 2012, we had 60 days.

"You couple that with the lack of rainfall.  We typically get 28 or 29 inches per year,' Nix said.

But we haven't been anywhere close to those numbers in recent years.

In 2011, Wichita Falls received 15.5 inches below normal rainfall.
And in 2012, we were 8.75 inches below normal.

"High temperatures, no rain, and in 2011 you couple that with high winds, and that's a lot of evaporation, so we lost a lot of water," explained Nix.

In 2010, lakes started almost full. By the end of year, lakes were almost 90 percent full. Then it got hot, and by end of 2011, our lakes had lost about 30 percent of their water.

They lost an additional 15 percent in 2012 and if not for lower temperatures and conservation measures, it would have been more than that. Compared to evaporation on a hot and windy day, the amount pumped out of the lakes is a drop in the bucket.

Nix said, "It really depends on the season.  In the winter, it could be as low as nothing and in the summer, it could be as high as several hundreds of millions of gallons a day." 

So you add it all up and you have the perfect drought.
Let's rewind to 2000. How'd we get out of that drought?  You need the perfect storms.

"In 2000, starting about the middle of October, it started raining, and October was a record rain month.  Then we had a record rain month in November.  We had a second record rain month in December, and then another record rain month in January," said Nix

That's what pulled us out of the big hole we were in in 2000.
And it's going to take several inches above normal rainfall for several months to get us out of the hole we're in today.

Otherwise, Nix says we'll be in stage four water restrictions by the end of the summer.

For water conservation tips and links to more information from the city of Wichita Falls on the short and long term water plans: http://texomashomepage.com/water

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