That foreign AID should STAY AT HOME — SO DEVASTATING – Franklin
The Texas Drought of 2011
A cow is stuck in the mud at the bottom of an empty stock tank in Garfield on Wednesday July 27, 2011. The historic drought of 2011 dried up stock tanks all over Texas.
Photographs by Jay Janner
Story by Brenda Bell
Austin American-Statesman staff
The meanest drought in modern Texas history looks different out here, away from the cities.
There are no emerald swaths of St. Augustine lawns, no blooming shrubs, no misters cooling bar patrons as the sun goes down on another cloudless, 105-degree day. The disconnect between what rural Texans are experiencing and sheltered urbanites are seeing has never seemed greater.
Out here, the brutality of the drought is measured not in annoying water restrictions or water pipes bursting in the desiccated ground — all now commonplace in Texas cities and towns — but threatened livelihoods, and the waning of life itself.
Livestock and agricultural losses are already estimated at $5.2 billion, and expected to rise. Stock tanks have dried up, hungry cattle are being rushed to market, crops plowed under. Wildfires have torched more than 3.4 million acres; deer are abandoning their young; oak trees that have weathered many a hot summer are fading.
The state’s aquifers, which supply 60 percent of its water supply, are dropping, squeezed by development pressure and lack of rainfall. Some of the brightest jewels in the river system – the Blanco, the Pedernales, have slowed to a trickle. The Sabine, in normally lush East Texas, is at an all-time low.
The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows an angry red blotch covering almost all of Texas, denoting extreme to exceptional — the most severe — drought conditions. In the past 12 months, just 15 inches of rain have fallen, the driest such period on record. The average daily temperature in July (87.1 degrees) beat the old 1954 record, by nearly two degrees. August temperatures, currently averaging over 89 degrees, are on target to set a new record too.
These “phenomenally consistent” weather conditions are the result of a long-running La Nina weather pattern — the same set-up for the infamous 1950s drought, says Mark Rose, meteorologist for the Lower Colorado River Authority. When it began in 1949, one of every two Texans was still living in rural areas; by the time it ended seven years later, Texas had become an urban state, most of its population unfamiliar with the yearning for a good, two-inch rain.
There is no better depiction of that earlier time and place than Elmer Kelton’s “The Time It Never Rained,” the story of an old rancher’s struggle against the unforgiving “drouth” (in the Texas vernacular) — a story that rang so true that many readers believed the main character was based on their own fathers.
“I hoped the novel would give urban people a better understanding of hazards the rancher and farmer face in trying to feed and clothe them,” Kelton wrote in his preface to the book. “The heaviest readership, however, was west of the Mississippi. In effect I found myself preaching to the choir.”
Kelton died in San Angelo in August, 2009, a few months before the last statewide drought ended.
David Tucker, a ranch hand at Rocking H Ranch in Garfield, gives water to an exhausted cow he rescued that was mired in the mud at the bottom of a stock tank on Wednesday, July 27, 2011. The eight-year-old cow survived the ordeal, but two weeks later she got stuck again and died.
On a moonlit night on Wednesday, August 10, 2011, a boat is beached in the Cypress Creek arm of Lake Travis. Waterfront properties in this area of Lake Travis barely have a view of water, and their boats and docks rest on dry land.
A plane dumps fire retardant on a 30-acre grass fire in Leander on Monday, August 15, 2011. The blaze destroyed 15 homes.
Austin firefighters work at a house that burned to the ground on Callbram Lane in the Oak Hill neighborhood in Austin on Sunday, April 17, 2011. The wildfire destroyed or damaged 21 homes and involved more than 100 acres.
A burn ban sign warns of fines in a field in Old Dime Box in Lee County on Thursday, July 14, 2011. A record number of counties with outdoor burn bans was reached this summer including nearly every county in Texas.
Terry Hash pauses after searching in the cracked soil for cotton seeds in his 175-acre cotton field in Garfield on Thursday, August 18, 2011. Hash planted 800 acres of cotton, corn, wheat and sorghum, and almost all of it was destroyed by the drought. Despite having insurance, Hash said he worries about how he is going to pay his farm loans and borrow more money for next season’s crops. ‘Lots of sleepless nights,’ Hash said. ‘You lay in bed wondering what the hell you’re going to do.’
This corn stalk is typical of the condition of hundreds of acres of corn that was destroyed by drought on this farm in Round Rock on Tuesday, July 12, 2011.
Hundreds of acres of corn were destroyed by the drought on this farm in Round Rock on Tuesday, July 12, 2011.
A cow looks for blades of green grass in the bottom of an empty stock tank at a ranch near Manor on Wednesday, July 27, 2011.
Cattle wait in a pen to be auctioned at the Gillespie Livestock Company in Fredericksburg on Friday, August 10, 2011. Cattle auctions did brisk business this summer because ranchers were forced to sell much of their herd due to lack of water and grass. It could take years for the ranchers to replace their herds, and beef prices are expected to rise sharply after briefly going down.
Underweight cattle wait in a pen to be auctioned at the Gillespie Livestock Company in Fredericksburg on Friday, August 10, 2011. Some ranchers could not afford hay for their cattle or could not find it to buy.
A pasture near Webberville is devoid of ground vegetation on Wednesday, July 27, 2011.
Standing where the Llano River once flowed in Kingsland, Scott Becker of Fredericksburg looks for fish in shallow puddles on Wednesday, July 6, 2011.
A water slide and a rope swing are rendered useless at a pond in Old Dime Box in Lee County that has dwindled to just a few inches on Thursday, July 14, 2011.
A catfish can barely move on the edge of a pond in that has dwindled to just a few inches deep on Thursday, July 14, 2011, in Old Dime Box in Lee County.
A whirlwind kicks up dust in Garfield on Thursday, August 18, 2011, a day that saw a high temperature of 106.
Dead trees are silhouetted against the dawn sky in Wyldwood on Thursday, August 18, 2011.
The carcass of a young deer lies on the ground near the dried-up banks of Bear Creek near Fredericksburg in Gillespie County on Friday, August 10, 2011. Adult deer sometimes abandon their fawns during a severe drought.
The boat ramp at Pelican Point Resort, a fishing camp on Lake Buchanan, in the community of Tow leads to a vast dry land on Friday, August 10, 2011. Steve Buchanan, the owner of the fishing camp, said the extended drought has made it impossible to attract customers and doomed his business. He is trying to sell the campground, but it is undervalued due the conditions of the lake.
Boat docks are unusable as the Pedernales River, which feeds into Lake Travis, is reduced to a trickle near Spicewood on Wednesday, July 20, 2011.
City of Austin Water Utility workers repair a water main break in the intersection of Airport Boulevard and 51st Street on Thursday, August 18, 2011. The broken water main closed the busy intersection for several hours causing traffic problems. Shifting ground caused by the heat and drought is breaking water pipes all over Austin.
A sign on a barbed wire fence near Carmine in Washington County expresses the thoughts of many on Thursday, July 14, 2011.
Ranchers Olan Tisdale, left, and Brian Eckert fold their hands and bow their heads during a gathering to pray for rain at a downtown park in Fredericksburg on Thursday, July 21, 2011.
The sun sets over the parched land in Gillespie County near Fredericksburg on Thursday, July 21, 2011 after another day without rain.
Then there were the Bastrop fires adding to the water shortage…
The most recent fires in Texas included Bastrop County near Austin, the single worst blaze in the state’s history: it burned approximately 2,000 homes before it was done, more than any previous fire in the state. The man Bastrop fire—one of at least 63 that simultaneously burned in the state—scorched 100,000+ acres, forcing thousands to evacuate—all within an uncomfortable range of the capital, Austin. It was fueled, in part, by strong winds from Tropical Storm Lee.
Gov. Rick Perry returned from presidential campaigning to offer assistance and again seek a federal-disaster declaration. He had petitioned for one during the earlier round of fires and was turned down by the Feds.