Monday evening, the sky over Mason County darkened. Lightning flashed, thunder roared, pea size hail rained down, and then the sky cleared once more.
Since January 1st, the official rainfall is just over half an inch. That averages out to under 0.20 of rainfall for each of the first few months of the year. The bluebonnets are trying, valiantly, to put on as much of a display as they can muster. The trees are leafing out, which means they're drawing up moisture from the soil and pumping it up through the trunk and out through the branches. But, there is very little moisture remaining to tap into, and the small rains we've had are having very little effect.
I'm an optimistic person, and a person of faith. I know that it will eventually rain, and it will rain enough to be useful. I know that once we get rain, the seeds that have been laying dormant will begin germinating and shooting their tender green stems up to the sky. I'm just not sure how much more time we can wait before even our faith and our optimism start to falter.
When I've talked to folks who made it through the 1950s drought, they tell me stories of watching storm clouds move across the county leaving nothing but dust and disappointment. They've told me how springs stopped flowing, rivers stopped running, and everything stopped growing.
We have something that they didn't back in the drought of the 50s... we have access to sources of groundwater that they did not. Sometimes, we fail to see just how bad this particular drought is because we still have water to drink, we still have water for our livestock, and we still have water to keep the plants around our houses from completely dying. Just because we have more water flowing from the tap than our forefathers did in the 1950s, it doesn't mean we're doing better, it just means that we're able to hold on for a longer period of time than they were able to do back then.
The optimistic and faithful part of me knows that, as we approach summer, the chance of tropical systems bringing the amount of rainfall we need will increase. I know that the livestock and wildlife will survive in higher numbers because of the groundwater that we're providing. But, I worry about how much longer that can hold out as urban areas and industrial customers find ways to pump more and more of this non-renewable resource to cities that are miles away and to work sites that will help satisfy our need for energy; but, will do nothing to slake our thirst.
We've been fortunate in that, in Mason County, our groundwater reserves have remained at fairly consistent levels. There have been isolated wells that are no longer producing; but, the majority of residents continue to have at least one or two wells that can provide for their needs. That could change if current rainfall levels continue.
The odd thing about most of the record droughts is how they end. In the 1930s and again in the 1950s, when the drought finally broke, it did so in dramatic fashion. The rainfall that finally fell upon the parched landscape was so heavy that it ran off in torrents. It flowed into gulleys, creeks and rivers, raising the flow to record levels as it moved downstream. Bridges were destroyed, houses were washed away, channels changed course as the debris piled up and caused temporary dams.
When it was all over, and rainfall started falling in more beneficial patterns, everyone looked at the landscape and at the sky and gave thanks for the bounty all around them. Rather than remembering how bad things had been, people looked ahead to the future and tried to recover from the terrible years they had endured. But, we didn't always learn the lesson of Texas climate - there will be droughts.
The Highland Lakes were built for flood control, not for water conservation. Rather than making conservation of water a habit, we drilled the wells that fed our need to feel less dependent upon nature and to give us a sense of control over our environment. When things improved, we gave thanks for the change; but, didn't make good plans for what we should do BEFORE the next drought arrived.
We have that opportunity now. Let's hope we're paying attention.
It’s all just my opinion.