The newly-released U.S. Drought Monitor shows over 97% of Texas in drought conditions with just over 50% of the state experiencing exceptional drought, the highest on the scale.
According to the Lower-Colorado River Authority, “with very little rain and frequent periods of strong winds, drought conditions continue to strengthen. The vast majority of Blanco County is within the exceptional drought, along with a string of counties south and west.”
Because of the drought conditions, 75% of Texas counties are under burn bans, including Blanco County.
The weather forecast calls for highs in the mid- to upper-90s and no chance of precipitation into next week. Winds gusting to 20 miles per hour are expected until Saturday.
“Along with the lack of rain,” LCRA adds, “temperatures this spring have been running much warmer than normal. Soil moisture is very low, stock pond levels are dropping fast and evaporation rates are high.”
“In Austin, rainfall from October through the end of April was only 5.3 inches, the third driest on record since 1856. Rainfall from February 1 through the end of April has been less than an inch, by far the driest February through April period on record for Austin. It was also the warmest April on record for Austin.”
“Long-range weather forecasts indicate rainfall will likely remain below normal through spring and early summer as the storm track generally stays to the north of Texas.”
Is the end in sight? LCRA explains that “the La Niña weather pattern is forecast to diminish by June, but this generally just means a return to more normal weather which for Texas in summer means hot and generally dry weather. Even if wetter conditions return as a result of forecasts for increased chances of tropical storm activity, we would first need to see widespread rains of more than 5-6 inches across the Hill Country just to saturate the ground enough to have any significant runoff. Then this would need to be followed within a relatively short period of time with more widespread rains for runoff to begin coming into our lakes.”
Blanco-Pedernales Groundwater Conservation District declared Stage One Drought Conditions for a mild drought at the April 27, 2011, meeting of the Board of Directors.
“District-declared drought conditions affect only well owners and those whose water supply is provided by water wells, such as the City of Johnson City,” read a release issued by the district. “Individuals and public water systems that rely on other sources, such as rain water or surface water, are not required to comply with drought reductions required by the District, but may find it prudent to incorporate conservation measures in order to help reduce demand on their supplies.”
“Under Stage One,” the statement continued, “the District’s Drought Rules ask for voluntary reductions in groundwater use of 5-10% for all Blanco County groundwater users. Stage One also requires a mandatory end to all pumping of groundwater into surface ponds, tanks, lakes, etc., except for those holding 50,000 gallons or less that are used for domestic purposes or for livestock watering.”
The groundwater conservation district monitors well water levels and provided a graph of levels for the City of Blanco well. On April 26, 2011, the water depth below the surface was at 24.15 feet. Historically, the Blanco River flow stops at approximately 26 feet.
“The aquifer level shown in the chart has trended downward for several months and closely resembles the declines that preceded droughts in 2006 and 2008,” the statement notes. “According to [General Manager] Fieseler, the combination of lack of rainfall, dropping of aquifer levels, reductions in flow to local creeks and rivers, and several hot, summer months coming up clearly justify the declaration of Drought Stage One.”
At the USGS gage in Wimberley, the Blanco River registers at 3.42 feet and is on a steady decline. The historical minimum was 3.24 inches measured in 2009.
With hot temperatures predicted and high winds possible, there’s always a risk of wildfire. Since fire season started on November 15, 2010, Texas Forest Service and area fire departments have responded to 11,362 fires that have burned 2,838,428 acres. In Mason County, the Hungry Hollow Fire was contained at 539 acres.
The Texas Forest Service released several tips to help prevent fires:
• Remove flammable materials from around your home.
• Develop an evacuation plan for your family. Resources are available on the Firewise website and at texasfirestorm.org.
• Obey outdoor burning bans. Don’t burn trash or debris when conditions are dry or windy. Unsafe burning of leaves, brush, household trash and other debris is the No. 1 cause of wildfires in Texas.
• Keep lawn mowers and agricultural equipment in proper working condition and avoid rocks and other materials which might cause a spark.
• To report suspicious activities, call the Arson Hotline at (888) 501-3850. If possible, safely obtain an accurate description of the person and/or vehicle (including the license number) before calling the hotline.
• Humans cause more than 90 percent of all wildfires. Do not weld or cut without a spotter, a water source and a shovel.