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Senior Officials Call 2011 New Dought of Record

Water for Texas Plan, drought and fire highlight conference

By Bruce Barr
TAC County G.I.S. Analyst

Two senior agency officials gave presentations to county judges on the recently released 2012 Water for Texas plan, the current drought and a recap of the record 2011 fire season at the TAC Fall Administrative Workshop in Corpus Christi Nov. 14.

Carolyn Brittin, Texas Water Development Board deputy executive administrator for Water Resource Planning and Information, led off the discussion by going over the history of the state water planning process, the primary drivers and the expected impacts on Texas if projected conditions are realized.

Key components of the 2012 Water for Texas forecast are the projections that the Texas population is expected to increase from 25.4 million in 2010 to 46.3 million in 2060 — an increase of 82 percent. That growth increase will spur municipal water demand from 4.9 to 8.4 million acre-feet. (An acre-foot is the quantity of water required to cover one acre to a depth of one foot; equivalent to 43,560 cubic feet, or 325,851 gallons.)

The plan sees agricultural use declining by 2060 from 10 million acre-feet to 8.4 — the same as municipal use — and manufacturing, electric power generation and livestock watering to increase slightly.

“Unfortunately, surface water supplies are expected to decrease from 17 million acre-feet in 2010 to about 15.3 million acre-feet in 2060. We have an immediate need of 3.6 million acre-feet, and by 2060, that need will reach 8.3 million acre-feet,” Brittin said.

Currently, there are 562 water supply projects that will raise the 2010 production numbers by 2 million acre-feet and increase the 2060 water supplies by 9 million acre-feet. Regarding state water plan capital costs, Brittin stated that by 2060, if all recommended strategies are implemented, capital costs are projected to be $53 billion dollars. Those costs only include developing new water supplies, delivery of water to a supply system and limited water treatment.

A New Drought of Record?
The latest water plan, and its 50-year estimates, are based on the “Drought of Record,” generally considered stretching from about 1950 to 1957, but both Brittin and Tom Boggus, state forester and director of the Texas Forest Service, believe the current Texas drought will replace the ’50s as the new Drought of Record.

Boggus stated that not only was the current stretch the driest, but that last summer was the hottest summer of recorded history.

Most of Texas also had a significant rain period prior to the drought which started a growth spurt in vegetation. As the vegetation dried, it provided an enormous fuel potential. Add in the La Nina climate effects and Texas ran head-long into what Boggus called the “perfect firestorm.”

Beginning with the April 2011 wildfire outbreaks and culminating with the Labor Day firestorms, Texas fire departments and the Texas Forest Service (TFS) have responded to a total of 28,740 fires covering nearly 4 million acres. Because Texas is becoming more urbanized, 25,286 of those fires were within 2 miles of a community.

Adequate Response
Because of good foresight, a significant number of resources were preplaced before the outbreaks. Boggus reported to the judge’s group that during the April firestorms TFS resources in Texas stretched 660 miles north to south and 640 miles east to west.

He also said that the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System (TIFMAS) was another reason for the relative success during the 2011 fire season. Using TIFMAS, which was set up for local support of hurricane, flood and wildfire response, there were seven mobilizations this year involving 354 engines and 1,280 firefighters from 204 fire departments.

The use of air resources included a DC 10, C130s, and other aircraft for a total of 16,920 flight hours, 54,475 drops with more than 34 million total gallons dropped of both water and retardant.

“Texas has more than 60,000 active firefighters, more than half of them volunteers,” Boggus said.

He also noted that volunteer fire departments respond to 90 percent of the wildfires in Texas — departments with little to no money.

Boggus continued his presentation by describing how TFS is the incident management team responsible for Texas response and how it coordinates with the other southern states and state agencies for a unified response to extreme weather events.

Boggus concluded by introducing the Texas Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal (TxWRAP) to the judges. TxWRAP is the primary mechanism for the Texas Forest Service to deploy risk information and create awareness about wildfire issues across the state. The portal has three different GIS base use levels, a public viewer, a professional viewer and a fire occurrence explorer.

About the Water Plan
The first Texas water plan, explained Brittin, was driven by the ’50s drought — until now considered the drought of record. At that time, the Texas Legislature passed the various water codes that established the Texas Water Board and the State Water Plan. Not wanting to create a system that was state centric, the state plan is based around the 16 regional water plans and more than 3,000 local water user groups. The state water plan is developed on a five-year planning cycle with a 50 year planning horizon and looks at the future needs of irrigated agriculture, municipal use, electrical power generation, manufacturing and livestock watering.

More Info
For additional notes on the presentations, a copy of “2012 Water for Texas,” or help with the TxWRAP viewer, please contact Bruce Barr, bruceb@county.org.