The good news is: Texas drought conditions didn’t get much worse last week. The bad news: conditions didn’t get much better either, according to the latest Texas Drought Report from the Texas Water Development board (TWDB).
“Drought conditions across the state showed little net change over the past week,” the latest report says. “Some areas saw improvement (Panhandle) from much-needed rains, while others experienced deteriorating conditions (portions of Central Texas, including Kerrville).
Texas AgriLife observers agree with the assessment for Central Texas. Robert Burns, in his weekly Texas Crop and Weather update, reports conditions in the Winter Garden area are worsening and growers are abandoning plans to plant traditional August crops such as cabbage.
“Little showers aren’t going to do it. We need a flood,” said Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist Larry Stein, Uvalde, who works closely with vegetable, fruit and nut growers in the Winter Garden region.
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Losing that production could be a significant blow, not only to Texas producers and consumers, but across the country. The Texas Winter Garden region is one of the major U.S. production areas of irrigated vegetables such as cabbage, spinach, onions, cucumbers and melons, along with pecans. The region lies southwest of San Antonio and is comprised mainly of six counties, Medina, Uvalde, Dimmit, Frio, La Salle and Zavala, but also includes parts of Atascosa, Maverick and McMullen counties.
Hard hit area
The area has been particularly hard hit by drought over the last seven years, Stein said. Like much of the state, the region has seen the drought abate somewhat from substantial rains of 3 inches, 5 inches or greater. While this has helped dryland crops such as wheat and cotton, the rains haven’t been enough to recharge groundwater sources such as the Edwards or the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifers or the rivers.
All the vegetable crops require a lot of irrigation water, but the Edwards Aquifer has had to cut its allotments to growers by 44 percent in some areas this year, Stein said.
“The Carrizo-Wilcox is not in too bad of shape, but the Edwards is being taxed heavily by urban sprawl as well as agriculture.”
Stein said a hurricane, a tropical storm or stalled-out low-pressure area dumping several feet of water on the region is about the only hope to recharge the aquifer.
“They always say be careful what you wish for, but that’s what’s needed to recharge these aquifers and refill the rivers,” he said.
Growers may limit planting August crops like cabbage and save irrigation water for late fall or winter crops, such as spinach.
“It’s cooler that time of year, and crops will require less water,” Stein said.
Reservoir storage capacity across the state continues to decline, according to the TWDB report. “Storage capacity declined slightly, dropping 90,000 acre-feet or 0.3 percent,” from last week.
Drought monitor numbers show 57 percent of the state still in moderate to exceptional drought status, down only 1 percent from last week, but significantly lower than the 83 percent from three months back and 88 percent a year ago.
Reservoir storage is at 67 percent full, same as last week, up two points from three months ago, and 5 points from a year ago. Normally, storage capacity is at 81 percent this time of year.
The drought monitor map shows a sizeable number of counties in East Texas still considered drought-free, along with all or parts of four counties in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and a small sliver in Far West Texas.
Much of the state, especially Central, Northeast and Far West, is in abnormally dry status. Much of the High Plains is rated severe with a significant area ranging from extreme to exceptional. Small hot spots of extreme to exceptional drought status also show in the Uvalde and Big Bend areas and severe drought status has begun to creep down from the High Plains to the Rolling Plains and into Central Texas.
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/ .