When Water Gives Us the Willies October 2018

Halloween trick-or-treaters love the adventure of going door-to-door, never sure what ghoulish surprises they'll find. Touring a haunted house sounds fun, but once inside, the spooky sounds and gruesome sights might send some running.

Similarly, Mother Nature always has a trick up her sleeve and can unleash some spectacular skullduggery, often involving water—too much or too little. Either scenario carries consequences that are harrowing to consider.

Beware water in excess

Few Texans who experienced Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath would have guessed they would ever witness flooding on such magnitude. The storm made landfall at Rockport in late August 2017 and drenched southeast Texas for days, dropping a ghastly 15 trillion gallons of water and becoming one of the worst natural disasters recorded in this country.

The undeniable truth is that Texas is woefully susceptible to weather extremes. Just look at our history of floods, hurricanes, and, on the flip side, drought. That's because our climate is no stranger to extremes in temperature and precipitation rates and variations of severe weather. Since 1980, Texas has experienced the highest number of billion-dollar weather disasters of any state. Moreover, flooding is the leading cause of fatalities associated with natural disasters in Texas. Most occur when people drive or walk into floodwaters.

For these reasons, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) has invested in a variety of programs to increase data collection and dissemination and to support improved flood forecasting and warning throughout Texas.The TWDB also issues grants for flood protection and mitigation and helps educate the public on how to prepare for flood conditions, what to do during a flood event, and actions to take in the aftermath. Currently, the TWDB is in the final stages of preparing the first-ever State Flood Assessment.

A hex on dry spells

While floods are frightening for their ferocity and rapid onset, Texas is well acquainted with another disaster that is slow moving, yet crippling. A prolonged drought can be as ruinous to pocketbooks and quality of life as a flood. Texans may recall the 2011–2014 drought, touted as the worst of modern times; in 2011, 100 percent of the state was in drought.

The 1950–1957 drought is considered the longest drought in Texas' recorded history. It triggered state action to fund water conservation and supply projects and to plan for future droughts. The Texas Legislature authorized state bonds for water development projects, and the TWDB was created to administer those funds. The TWDB also was charged with planning and financing water development and, as a result, produced its first state water plan in 1968. This important document evolved over the decades, and now, based on input from 16 planning regions, is instrumental in guiding Texas through the 21st century and beyond.

No fortune teller is needed to foresee Texas trends. Newly released data-based population projections for the 2022 State Water Plan tell us population estimates continue to climb. Unfortunately, our water supply does not. Looking ahead 50 years to 2070, we estimate a population of about 51.5 million. More people living here will place even greater demands on existing water resources.

What's in the cards?

While Texas faces its own water-related monsters, the scary truth is our state's not alone. Texas is part of a larger water crisis that circles the globe. Many countries lack any kind of infrastructure at all to support water needs. Impoverished regions, such as those in Africa, simply don't have the luxury of turning on a faucet to draw clean running water. Rather, people must walk long distances to rivers or other sources; even then the water they carry home might be contaminated.

Texas is fortunate to have the state water plan in place to outline strategies and projects that will help ensure future Texans have reliable water systems to meet their needs. The TWDB supports communities throughout the state by offering scientific and planning expertise and financial assistance to bring those projects to life. Every effort helps, though, including individual conservation efforts to use water more wisely.

The fact is that people tend to underestimate the power and importance of water, and then rightfully get spooked when there is too much or too little of it. Without a doubt, water and its unpredictable nature can bedevil us. But if we don't treat this natural resource as the precious, finite source it is, then the joke will be on us.

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