As the Texas Lege Tackles $2 Billion Water Legislation, Drought Records Are Set

The Texas House and Senate took up legislation Tuesday to address a drought-induced water crisis. A proposed bill out of the House would pull $2 billion from the state's Rainy Day Fund to implement a 50-year water plan. Municipalities and water districts could apply for funds the state would prioritize based on how conservation-minded the project is.

And it comes not a moment too soon. Even as lawmakers sift through the bill's particulars on the House floor, the drought, now entering its third year, is intensifying. The last five months have been the third driest on record since the 1970s. If you take a gander at state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon's line graph, note how rainfall levels for the last five months are mirroring those for the 2011 rain year -- the worst single year this state has on the books.

There isn't any comfort to be found in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's outlook through the end of June. Nearly all of the state is slated for persistent or intensifying drought, and even parts of soggy East Texas are predicted to develop drought conditions.

In the near term, though, that isn't even the worst part. The statewide reservoir-level forecast is a horror show. It's not the arc it follows, which is really no different than 2012 and its close-to-normal rainfall. What's worrisome is the starting point. After the last couple of dry years, we're starting with reservoirs that are 65 percent full. Even 2011 began with reservoirs statewide at 80 percent. As the summer progresses and the drought along with it, reservoir levels will plummet below even 2011 levels.

Our neighbor to the north, Wichita Falls (pop. 100,000+), has municipal reservoirs that have hit 40 percent. By the end of June, the city may implement Stage 4 restrictions, meaning no outside watering, no filling of pools and even a reduction in industrial uses. By the end of the year, some projections predict the city won't be able to pull any more water from its reservoirs.

"If the drought continues as I have depicted it," Nielsen-Gammon writes, "by the end of the summer it will be the second-worst drought on record, behind only the drought of the 1950s."