How They Do Drought in Texas

Your Texas rice field looks like this? No problem, drill another well. (Photo by Terry Shuck/Flikr)

The next stop on our Last Chance Tour of a collapsing civilization: the Texas Panhandle.  The land is turning into  desert, the people are acting out the Tragedy of the Commons (a pretty way of describing the way humans fight for the last scrap of a vanishing resource),  the government is making things worse and almost everybody is pretending nothing is happening at all.

How bad is the Texas drought? 2011 was the hottest, driest year there in recorded history.  The current drought began in 2010 and continues.  It is part of the scenario predicted as a consequence of global climate change — a scenario that sees much of the American Southwest becoming virtually uninhabitable desert. The trends are proceeding as forecast, and the water supplies of many Texas cities, towns and farms are in grave jeopardy.  But Texans, and their state government, and their dominant political party, do not believe in global climate change.  So it’s business as usual.

When it doesn’t rain in Texas, and the crops wither and the surface reservoirs dry up, there is one alternative source of water. It’s the same source relied on by the people of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. It’s the Ogallala Aquifer, a vast underground repository of water that resembles a vast soaked sponge.

Like the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia, the Ogallala contains fossil water, deposited by glaciers tens of thousands of years ago. That means there’s only so much of it. In a wet year — and there aren’t going to be many more wet years in North Texas — the Ogallala water levels might gain a fraction of an inch in replenishment. Prior to the onset of this drought, Texas Panhandle farmers were habitually drawing it down by about a foot  a year.

Then it got really dry and the farmers more than doubled down on irrigation, dropping the surface of the aquifer under the Panhandle by 2.5 – 3 feet. One well recorded a 25-foot drop.

But wait, it gets worse. According to the Texas Tribune, last year, in the worst of the drought so far, West Texas farmers continued to irrigate crops that were already dead with precious Ogallala water. They didn’t do it because they wanted to; they did it because they had to irrigate through the entire growing season in order to collect federally subsidized (and regulated) crop insurance.

The High Plains Underground Water Conservation District understands the First Law of Consumption (as propounded in Brace for Impact): if you only have so much stuff in a container, and you’re taking it out as fast as you can, pretty soon you won’t have any stuff left. So it has proposed placing a cap on water withdrawals from the Ogallala, putting meters on wells, that sort of thing. Doing, in other words, one of the main things we invented government to do — protecting the Commons for the common good.

Enter the Texas Supreme Court, which early this year announced a decision demonstrating once again that justice is blind. And deaf, and dumb. In Edwards Aquifer v. Day & McDaniel, the court upheld the Wild West tradition that you “own” the water beneath your land, making any interference with your full enjoyment of that water — even by a government entity trying to protect the common good (see: socialism)  a potential taking. So, presumably, if you own an acre of land, and you enjoy using the well on it to supply, let’s say, the city of Houston, thus sucking water from under three states, that presumably would be fine with the Honorable Court.

Now lawsuits are falling like rain in Texas as farmers — especially including rice farmers, that’s right rice farmers  – rush to protect their right to pump as much water from the rapidly failing Ogallala (and other aquifers) as they can enjoy.  (Texas Farmers Battle Ogallala Pumping Limits — The Texas Tribune)

One can only assume that Texans, at the onset of winter, burn their homes in order to keep warm.

 

 

 

 

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11 Responses to How They Do Drought in Texas

  1. I wonder at what point people wake up? I also wonder why the lamestream media is not putting more information out for people to make informed decisions. Since it is the lamestream media, perhaps I just answered my own question…

    • Yulek says:

      Well, some native American tribe knew the answer to your first question long ago:

      When the Last Tree Is Cut Down,
      the Last Fish Eaten,
      and the Last Stream Poisoned,
      You Will Realize That You Cannot Eat Money

      But we may yet get lucky and wise up after fishing (due to over-fishing) and farming (due to top soil erosion, more expensive fertilizers, severe pervasive droughts and aquifer over-extraction) will become uneconomical. And then instead of fighting wars for whatever is left, some 5 billion people will nicely lay down and die peacefully.

      But I think the first version is more likely.

  2. kyle says:

    “Learning” is boring in America.

    Boring doesn’t garner ratings.

    Now watching two “political consultants” scream at each other, that’s entertainment!

  3. Newsboy says:

    Whenever laws are changed in a democracy, there has to be broad agreement and compromise. When something like “mineral rights” are to be changed in Texas, the stakes are vast, and it can be bet that certain inside vested interests will win big, while farmers and citizens lose.
    Therefore, it makes more sense to keep the laws the way they are, with individual farmers pumping as much as they need. It would make sense to change the regulations that pay them to irrigate dead fields. That would not be so dangerous at all.
    Things can always be made worse, really. That’s not just a risk, but a certainty, if these laws are opened up to change. Yes, people like farmers will be deprived of value that they legally own, via mineral rights. No, that value will not be wisely used for the common good. Where do you come from?

    • Tom Lewis says:

      The likelihood now is that things are going to get worse not because the laws are changed but because the water is running out. Water rights are one thing when there’s plenty of water and we’re just divvying it up, but something else when it gets down to some people having a livelihood and some not, some people living and some not. I agree that changing laws won’t solve the problem. But to carry on as if there is no problem strikes me as, um, inappropriate.

  4. c. welch says:

    They don’t grow rice in West Texas … And the rice farmers (who are in Southeast Texas) get their water from the (also rapidly declining)LCRA…

  5. Jon Cloke says:

    Surely this is only going to be a problem until Waste Control finishes building its nuclear waste dump on top of the aquifer? After that, when it starts leaking into the aquifer and all of those Texans keep drinking the radioactive water, they’re going to die off pretty rapidly and there should be enough water to go round for the survivors…

  6. Trevor says:

    What are the farmers in west Texas supposed to do? not farm and die off? They are not uneducated on the fact that water is dwindling, there is just no other option at the moment.

  7. Tom Keeler says:

    I live in the middle of the Panhandle in Amarillo. People here are mostly right wing conservative religious fanatics. Most of them do not believe in global warming. Add those to the redneck cowboy Obama haters and you have a recipe for ignorance and intolerance that you could not believe with out living here.

    They will pump the ogallala dry trying to grow CORN of all things. Most of the farmers and ranchers here have had their land passed down to them from there great grandparents who got the land from HOMESTEADING. They are arrogant and self abosorbed aholes, most of them. Rodeos and Obama bashing is all they really care about. This place sucks.