Dust Bowl Texas: The Drought’s Impact on Groundwater, State Parks, and Horses
The drought leaves nothing untouched. This week the ongoing drought impacts the state’s groundwater, state parks, and horses.
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With the persistent drought arguably second only to Rick Perry’s presidential campaign as the state’s biggest issue, we take a look at the latest drought-related headlines.
DESPITE PRECIPITATION, DROUGHT PERSISTS
Don’t let the rain and snow Texas has seen in recent days lull you into complacency: the drought is still here with us. “While rain is making its way across of much of Texas this weekend, it will likely not be enough to bring the state out of its record one-year drought. All of Texas east of Interstate 35, the highway that runs through the middle of the state, needs between eight to twenty more inches of rain to get things back to normal,” Terrence Henry noted at StateImpact Texas.
Houston readers got this reminder from the Eric Berger, the Houston Chronicle’s SciGuy blogger: “It’s worth remembering that the city of Houston is still more than 20 inches of rain behind its normal rainfall totals for the year.” Berger also pointed readers to NASA and the German Aerospace Center’s groundwater level map that shows much of Texas covered by a sea of red, indicating areas where groundwater has dipped to lows rarely seen in sixty years.
STATE PARKS SEEING RED
Scorching temperatures, searing wildfires, and the drought kept visitors away from state parks this year, and now the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is asking for $4.6 million in donations to balance their operating budget, Farzad Mashhood blogged at Austin American-Statesman’s Salsa Verde. Revenue at parks across the state was down $1 million in August, a 25 percent drop.
The decrease in visitors fees, which make up roughly half the department’s budget, couldn’t come at a worse time, as the state legislature trimmed some 21 percent from TPWD's budget this summer, Mashhood reported. Further layoffs could be imminent if the department cannot find another source of revenue, so TPWD director Carter Smith took to YouTube to appeal for donations, which can be made at this website.
PECANS ARE THE NEW COPPER WIRING
With a decreased pecan supply (due to the drought) and increased demand (China wants our nuts), pecan prices have shot up. A single nut can fetch a nickle, WFAA reported, and at those prices some enterprising thieves are stealing truck fulls of pecans from farmers. “I went in the house, ate supper, went back to the fields—within 45 minutes they had stolen 450 pounds of pecans,” one third-generation pecan farmer in El Paso County told WFAA. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office is keeping a watchful eye on the thefts and has sent one case to the district attorney.
FUTURE WILL BE NASTY, BRUTISH, AND DRIER
A piece in Salon paints a dismal picture of the coming years for the southwest. William deBuys distills the future this way in a post that originally appeared on TomDispatch: “If you live in the Southwest or just about anywhere in the American West, you or your children and grandchildren could soon enough be facing the Age of Thirst, which may also prove to be the greatest water crisis in the history of civilization.”
DeBuy, with no fear of melodrama, goes on to lay out how the Age of Thirst will unfold in a “three-act tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions,” and predicts that the American West will have to shrink in order to survive.
SKIPPING THE GLUE FACTORY
With the price of hay increasing, horses and donkeys have become very expensive to feed, leading the beasts to be abandoned in droves, according to a Reuters story out of San Antonio.In a normal year, it takes $150 to $200 a month to feed a horse, an expense that has, in some cases, tripled due to a decreased supply in hay.
When owners give these animals up, it strains law enforcement agencies, which must, by state law, hold abandoned horses for eighteen days.