Mason County News
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It's All About the Numbers
Wednesday, July 13, 2011 • Posted July 13, 2011

I'm the official weather reporter for the City of Mason for the National Weather Service. Every morning, at around 8:00 a.m., I take the high and low temperature readings, rainfall measurements, and the rare snowfall. I record them in logbooks, then I enter them online at the Weather Service website and upload the latest numbers.

And that's what drought is really all about, isn't it. The numbers.

Thus far in 2011, we've only recorded five inches of rainfall. In a normal year, we would have had about 12 inches by now. In a really good year, it might be 15 inches.

Normal highs for July are 94-96 degrees. Except, for the last few weeks, those highs have been 102-104. At night, rather than dropping into the normal 68-70, we've been at 74-76.

The LCRA website details stream flow levels along the Llano, James, San Saba and Colorado Rivers. It is telling that at most reporting stations, the streamflow rate is at zero. Colorado inflow - zero. San Saba inflow - zero. James River inflow - zero. The Llano is a river on life support, as the flow rate is only five to nine cubic feet per second in the upper channel, with rates in Kingsland closer to three or four cubic feet per second.

Downstream from Austin, agricultural contracts keep water flowing around 1,200 cubic feet; but, that flow is sustained by releasing water from the upstream reservoirs. Their crucial numbers are the lake levels, and those drop visibly every day with more shoreline being exposed and old islands and land forms making rare appearances.

The folks who keep records now tell us that this drought is the third worst drought on record. That is based on the numbers they have monitored: rainfall, stream levels, soil dryness. What isn't measured, and can't be compared, are the people.

In the prior droughts of record, Texas was much more a rural state. The population was scattered about the landscape. They depended on shallow wells, failing cisterns, windmills and drying springs. When those all failed, the population moved to areas where there was still water, and they began new lives and new lifestyles.

At the peak of this drought, we have turbine pumps, deep wells, vast reservoirs and advanced technology. The very things that should be our salvation are also the very things that are causing our latest problems.

We became accustomed to having all the water we wanted, whenever and whereever we wanted. We have great expanses of green lawn, swimming pools, fountains and lush plants. We farm the deserts, settle in the arid lands, and pay no heed to the water we waste.

A few weeks ago, I was in San Angelo. They are preparing to pump water from the Hickory aquifer into Ivie Reservoir, then on to their processing plants. Their lawns are still lush and green, for they have "found" a solution to their water troubles. Their solution may well be our undoing.

It's all about the numbers. San Angelo can take vast acre feet of water from the Hickory, dropping well levels to unmanageable levels for farmers and ranchers across our area. A population shift may, necessarily, be in the making once more.

It's easy to forget how bad things are right now once it starts to rain again. When streams are flowing, ponds are full and well levels have once again risen, will we remember how bad things can be? And will we start changing our approach to the numbers and how we manage them so that future droughts are managed differently?

It’s all just my opinion.

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