In the Valley, not just farmers, but cities, may run out of water by spring
Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, email@example.com
COLLEGE STATION – In the Lower Rio Grande Valley, water shortages are shaping up as a crisis not just for farmers but also for entire cities this year, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
In 2009, the area experienced the worst drought in decades, as did much of the state, but this year is shaping up to be much worse for area residents, said Dr. Guy Fipps, AgriLife Extension irrigation engineer, College Station.
“In 2009, there was a drought, but there was plenty of water in the reservoir systems, so there was irrigation water,” he said. “This year, there is almost no water in the reservoir systems.”
Two-minute MP3 Audio of Texas crop, weather for March 12, 2013
The Lower Rio Grande Valley, commonly referred to as just “The Valley,” encompasses the southernmost tip of South Texas. More than 1 million people live in The Valley, according to AgriLife Extension sources. There are row crops commonly grown, such as cotton, sugarcane, grain sorghum and corn, as well as large acreages of commercial vegetable crops such as onions, spinach, potatoes, and many others, as well as citrus.
All crops and municipal areas are highly dependent upon water from the Rio Grande, Fipps said. There are a few wells, but they tend to be very salty.
“Most of the irrigation districts have informed the farmers that they will have one or two irrigation this years,” he said. “Three of the districts have informed their municipal water contracts that they will likely be out of water by April or May and will not be able to supply municipal water. This is quite serious.”
There are also international political issues involved, as by treaty Mexico and the U.S. share the water of the Rio Grande.
“The U.S. side is putting pressure on Mexico to get them to release some of the water they owe the U.S. so it can be used to maintain municipal water supplies this year,” Fipps said. “So it should be very interesting to see how this unfolds in the next two or three months.”
Fipps’ work in the area has concentrated in recent years to modernize canals to conserve water, he said.
“Conveyance efficiencies vary from as much as 90 percent in one of the smaller irrigation districts, to as low as 60 percent in many of the larger ones,” he said. “That means you have anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of the water lost before it reaches the fields.”
More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries for the week of March 4-11:
Central: Some counties got as much as 3 inches of rain. There were reports of aphids, but overall, small grains were doing well. Corn and grain sorghum were being planted. Rains slowed the planting of milo. Bermuda grass broke dormancy.
Coastal Bend: The eastern part of the region received light rain, but western counties remained extremely dry. High winds and poor soil moisture made it hard to prepare fields for spring planting. Trees were dying in some areas, and then breaking apart due to high winds. Livestock producers continued providing supplemental feed for livestock and further culling herds.
East: Most counties received about an inch of rain. High winds quickly dried out soils and caused damage to trees in some areas. Planting of spring vegetables began in parts of the region. Fruit trees were blooming. Spring calving was in full swing. Overall, cattle were in good condition with hay feeding continuing. Feral hogs were active and causing problems for landowners. Henderson County producers reported lice problems on beef cattle.
Far West: Mild temperatures, and dry and windy conditions resulted in high wildfire alerts. A light hail and rain storm moved through the southeastern corner of Val Verde County on March 9. Pastures began to green up. Farmers are beginning to plant corn, oats and chiles. Onions were already planted.
North: Soil-moisture levels were short to adequate, with more rain needed. Winds dried out topsoil, but field conditions remain good, and corn planting began. Winter wheat looked good, with farmers top-dressing it with nitrogen fertilizer. Winter pastures were in good condition, as were livestock. Spring calving was beginning in some areas. Most producers continued supplemental feeding of livestock. Feral hog damage of pastures was reported. Peach growers were concerned about the recent temperature fluctuations effect on blooming trees.
Panhandle: Temperatures were near to above average. Soil-moisture levels were mostly short to adequate. Producers were top-dressing small grains with fertilizer, spraying insecticides to control aphids, and applying herbicides for various warm-weather weeds. Wheat began to improve with recent moisture and warm temperatures. Livestock producers were grazing stocker cattle on wheat that had responded to irrigation and recent snows. Rangeland and pastures continued to be mostly in poor to very poor condition.
Rolling Plains: Although many counties were passed over by recent snows and rains, the extra moisture made other producers more optimistic. Winter wheat perked up almost overnight where moisture was received. Many livestock producers continued to graze cattle on wheat, as pastures didn’t offer much grazing. Grasses were slowly starting to green up, but producers were cautious as to running cattle on them. They wanted to allow pastures to recover more before beginning to graze them. Livestock were in fair to good condition with continued supplemental feeding. Hay supplies were nearly depleted in some areas. Cotton producers were ready for the cotton-planting season to begin and hoped for more rain. Some fields were being prepared for planting hay grazer if moisture levels became favorable. The rains and warm weather caused wildflowers to bloom, and both feral and domestic bees were foraging. Though many hives didn’t make it through the winter, those that did seemed to be very healthy and vigorous. Some trees were budding and flowering.
South: Soil-moisture levels ranged from 80 to 100 percent short in the northern parts of the region, and 60 to 100 percent very short in the eastern, western and southern parts of the region. High winds, warm temperatures and low humidity continued to dry topsoils. The drought continued to stress native grasses throughout the entire region. In Atascosa County, producers held off on planting some of their crops because of dry conditions. In Frio County, potatoes under irrigation were doing well. In McMullen County, spring calving was progressing well, but nursing needs further added to mother cows’ nutritional stress. Supplemental feeding was being steadily provided in an effort to keep body condition scores fair. In many southern counties, cotton and grain sorghum producers further delayed planting due to the extreme drought conditions. In Kleberg and Kenedy counties, cotton growers said they felt current drought conditions are worse than they were in 2009 when they could not plant any cotton. Some said the current drought is worse than the one they experienced back in the 1950s. In Zavala County, dryland grain sorghum, corn and cotton planting were still on hold. Also in that county, growers continued irrigating where they had the capacity to do so, and the cabbage and spinach harvests were very active. In Maverick County, winter oats and wheat were reportedly in good condition.
South Plains: More rain and severe storms were forecast for the weekend of March 9-10, but only a few areas received any moisture. Most areas only got wind. Swisher County reported that about 1,000 head of cattle had wandered out of their pastures during the recent blizzard, but most were found within two to four days. Southern parts of the region remained dry. Producers were doing some fieldwork, including pre-plant herbicide and fertilizer applications. Wheat varied from the near-jointing to the jointing stage, and was somewhat improved after the snow. Some fruit trees were already blooming in Lubbock County. Pasture and rangeland in low-lying areas improved somewhat, but generally needed more moisture. Stock-tank levels were low to dry. Cattle were mostly in fair to good condition with ranchers providing supplemental feed on cold and wet days.
Southwest: The region remained dry with little to no rain received. The drought persisted. Livestock producers continued providing supplemental feed for livestock.
West Central: Drought conditions continued as dry and windy weather dried out soils. Days were getting warmer, but nights were still cold. Wildfire danger increased. A few areas had scattered rain with hail storms. Land preparations were under way for spring crops. Farmers had to make planting decisions before the March 15 crop insurance deadline. Rangeland and pastures remained in poor condition. Very little grass was available for grazing. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued. Stock-tank water levels further declined, with some tanks completely dry.