AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas continues to suffer a serious rainfall deficit and is on track to experience the second-worst drought on record, the state climatologist said Tuesday.
John Nielsen-Gammon told the House and Senate Natural Resources Committees that most of the state is still in extreme drought and the forecast tilts toward drier-than-normal conditions through the spring. For some parts of the state, the current drought may end up being the worst ever recorded.
"No corner of the state has been spared dry conditions, the drought persists at historic levels," he said. "In summary, 2011 was about as bad as it gets for agriculture, but it is these multi-year droughts that strain water supplies and there is still a good chance this will end up being the drought of record for most of the state."
Texas has only received 68 percent of its normal rainfall, and reservoirs are at their lowest levels since 1990, Nielsen-Gammon said. He said high temperatures due to climate change have exacerbated the drought.
"The state temperature has increased on average by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s, and so that impacts drought through evaporation and loss of water once it reaches the ground," he said. "While there is greater hurricane activity over the water that tends to suppress ordinary summer thunderstorm activity over land."
Increased evaporation due to climate change also increases the severity of wildfires, Nielsen-Gammon added.
L'Oreal Stepney, deputy director for water at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, told lawmakers that 1,011 communities have imposed water restriction and 19 water systems have less than 180 days of water, three have less than 45 days and one is trucking in water to meet residents' needs.
The commission is currently managing water rights to make sure essential services and senior water rights holders receive enough to keep operating.
The state needs to spend $53 billion over the next 50 years to meet the state's long-term water needs, but so far officials have only spent about $3.1 billion, said Carolyn Britton, a senior Texas Water Development Board official. The state is pursuing permits to begin building 5-6 water reservoirs, she added.
Gov. Rick Perry and top lawmakers have recommended taking $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to create a water development bank to finance new projects.
Britton said the State Water Plan seeks to add 9 million acre feet of new water supply by 2060, with 22 percent coming from conservation and 10 percent from reusing water. The state will also require communities that rely on only one water source to develop an emergency plan to get water elsewhere in the event of a severe drought.