Q - Other than worrying about my lawn, why should I be concerned about drought in Texas?
A - Perpetual drought in Texas translates to losses for everyone--losses to the agricultural economy, which means higher prices for you at the grocery store. And Texas, which comes in second to California in agricultural product, would suffer overall economic loss if farmers and ranchers can't count on rain for their crops and herds. If Texas loses that sector of its economic base, the rest of us have to pick up the slack in taxes and costs.
Q - What does it mean when scientists say that Texas is headed for perpetual drought?
Climatologists who have studied both the history and the computer models on Texas rainfall have concluded that the state is headed for a very long period--possibly marked in hundreds of years--wherein rainfall continues to decrease, and more of the state becomes desert-like, a process known as desertification.
Q - What processes are contributing to Texas drought?
A - Texas is caught in the perfect storm of drought. Years of unregulated expansion and sprawl, limitless groundwater pumping, and poor conservation management practices have set up the state for disaster. Now come the effects of climate change, with increased temperatures and evaporation rates, and the result is a disaster.
Q - But what about El Nino? Isn't the phenomenon known as El Nino causing the drought?
A - The El Nino effect can contribute to drought, but it is not the only causative factor. It is predicted that El Nino will bring rains back to the region in the fall, but, scientists emphasize, that does not end the prospects for long-term drought.
Q - If it rains, why do I have to be concerned about drought? Won't the lakes fill up and farmers get rain on their crops?
A - Yes, the lakes may fill, but that doesn't change the long-term prospect for Texas. Texans need to get smarter now so that they can make changes in their way of living, and in their city codes and development regulations so that they can cope with a future that promises less and less rain.
Q - If we get really desperate for water, can't we build desalination plants? After all, climate change experts say that the seas are going to rise, so couldn't we use some of that water?
A - Desalination plants utilize a tremendous amount of energy, requiring new plants to be built to power them. In addition to seeming counter-productive, desalination is also far from a perfect process. Chemical and pharmaceutical waste, oil from offshore platforms and vessel spills, organic decaying matter from sea life, and "nerdles" - plastic pieces that resemble fish eggs - all find their way into the water produced through desalination. Additionally, chemicals have to be added in the process so as not to corrode the metal machinery in the plant. Desalinating water for human consumption in Texas would be energy-intensive and costly, and the product would be contaminated. Activist Maude Barlow, author of "Blue Covenant" and "Blue Gold," books about the commodification and scarcity of water, talks about the "inky" substance which emanates from the plants - she describes it as looking like it came out of a squid. Desalination is not the answer to our problems with water.
Q - What is the answer to our water problems in Texas?
A - There is no single answer to water problems - here in Texas, or anywhere else. Awareness is the first step on the road - we have to make every Texan aware that the water he is swirling about in the sink is water that is desperately needed for all human activities. But it's much more than that - we have to come to grips with how our frontier mentality of conquering the Texas wilderness, creating ever-new subdivisions, and drilling for water like it's oil, only to move on when it's gone - is an incorrect model for living. History tells us that places like Austin and San Antonio were never verdant patches of green - and we must have sensible restrictions on development, on groundwater pumping, and on vegetative cover. We have to rethink where our water is being used, and stop slighting rural areas to bring water to big cities. But most importantly, we have to be prepared for our own lifetimes, as well as the lives of our children and grandchildren, in a world where there's simply less water. Soil conservation, rainwater harvesting, graywater-friendly municipal codes--all of these play a role in saving Texas water for the next generations.
In the next few months, we'll be asking Texans to take another look at how they consume water, and helping them to plan for a future that includes drought. Texans are tough, and when tough times confront them, they step up and find new solutions to the problems, with innovations and adaptations that defy the nay-sayers.
Let's all work together to secure our precious water for the generations of tomorrow.