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Planning for
and managing
our water use
is perhaps
the most important
task facing Texas
policymakers in
the 21st century.

Severe drought is nothing new in Texas. Cycles of drought have plagued our region for millennia, devastating vegetation and wildlife and making survival difficult for human inhabitants as well.

In the 12th century CE for instance, much of the Southwest suffered through a decades-long drought; another in the second century CE lasted for nearly 50 years.1 These “megadroughts” appear to be infrequent but regular occurrences in our part of the world. A recent chart released by the Texas Water Resources Institute documents regular cycles of severe drought dating back to 1750 (Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 1

Texas Drought Cycles Over Time

Studies of tree rings have made it clear that Texas is prone to cycles of drought — sometimes prolonged drought. The graph below tracks more than two-and-a-half centuries of drought conditions in South Central Texas. The line in lighter blue shows estimated values for the Palmer Drought Severity Index, often used to track the occurrence and severity of drought; the darker line tracks the overall trend.

The graph shows that while we experienced overall wet weather during the late 80's and early 90's we have entered an overall dry cycle during this decade.

Source: Texas Water Resources Institute

But even in the context of centuries, 2011 was special — the driest year Texas has seen since modern recordkeeping began in 1895.

Rains in October and beyond brought some relief to parts of the state, but the drought’s toll for 2011 still runs into billions in damage. And it may well continue into 2012 — or longer.

In Texas, reliable water resources have always been the lifeblood of our economy and an entire way of life. And in today’s fast-growing state, those resources are being tested as never before.

Texas Drought Monitor

Texas drought map shows the entire state in dry or drought conditions.  The southern half of the state experienced severe, extreme or exceptional drought.  The Northern half has about 60% moderate to severe drought, with about 30% of the area in extreme drought conditions.

Source: U.S. Drought Monitor, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center, as of January 5, 2012

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