Monthly Featured Story - August, 2011 | Texas Water Development Board

Drought Preparedness and Response August 2011

As one of the two state agencies primarily responsible for Texas' water resources, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) plays a vital role concerning drought preparedness and response.  Successfully weathering a statewide drought primarily depends on effective planning and preparedness.  Of course, even the best laid plans become strained when events become more severe than anticipated.  In our current drought, which by several metrics is the most severe in history, TWDB staff members have a variety of roles and responsibilities that are aimed at helping Texans mitigate the consequences of lack of rainfall.

In an effort to provide updated drought information, the TWDB has been compiling drought index data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Texas A&M University, and the University of Nebraska in Lincoln since August 2009.  The TWDB maintains a database for these data in addition to a dataset of reservoir storage and streamflow conditions.  This information is provided in a user-friendly drought web page that is managed by John Zhu of the Surface Water division.  In addition to managing the drought page, John has used his programming expertise to create maps, streamline data collection, and create user friendly applications to provide daily drought information.  Drought Information Summary application

TWDB staff also prepares monthly Texas Water Conditions reports.  These reports document storage in the state's reservoirs as well as groundwater levels in the state's aquifers. In addition, the TWDB maintains information on reservoir storage for different regions of the state as well as for individual reservoirs.  The unofficial drought man for the TWDB, Mark Wentzel of the Surface Water division, monitors drought-related data from the National Drought Monitor, National Weather Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Forest Service, and other state and federal agencies, as well as lake and aquifer level data provided by the TWDB in preparation for the monthly drought update for our Board.

According to David Meesey, senior planner in the Water Resource Planning and Information (WRPI) program area, “Water Resource Planning and Information's main focus all the time is drought.”  David further explains that “the State Water Plan and regional water plans are 50-year water supply plans designed to meet water needs during a recurrence of the drought of record.  The plans recommend strategies and projects to provide additional water for every water user group that has water supply deficits during the most severe droughts.  The amount of water demand for each user group by decade and the available water supplies during drought are calculated and then compared.  For each user group that shows more demand than supply during drought, water management strategies are recommended to provide the additional water supply.  So our major products are plans to prepare for drought and to know what types of projects may be implemented and when they may be needed.”

The TWDB is a member of the Drought Preparedness Council, which is responsible for managing and coordinating the drought response and planning for the state.  The council’s responsibilities related to drought conditions include assessing conditions; advising the governor; informing the legislature and public; and ensuring effective coordination among responses of state, local, and federal agencies.  Yujuin Yang of the Surface Water division is currently the chair of the Drought Monitoring and Water Supply Subcommittee for the drought council and provides a monthly presentation covering the impact of current weather events, assessment of statewide reservoir levels, and a review of current drought indices.  John Sutton of the Conservation division has been the TWDB representative to the council and is the chair of the Drought Technical Assistance and Technology Subcommittee.

The TWDB is also a member of the Drought Joint Information Center.  Brenner Brown serves as the agency representative to this group, which collaborates to increase public awareness about the drought.

Managing water resources during drought conditions is truly a team effort.  Staff members from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas AgriLife, the Texas Division on Emergency Management, the TWDB and several other state agencies are working together from a variety of angles to respond to the drought.  Within the TWDB, many staff members have assumed additional responsibilities to assist in this effort.  The primary areas of focus of the TWDB are to prepare for drought through regional and state planning, monitor water resource conditions, and to make drought-related information available to Texans.  Current projections indicate that the drought will continue and may worsen for many parts of the state.  While we are still unable make it rain, we will continue to do our best to plan for and support drought response.