Learning from the Current Drought

For many municipalities and water suppliers, the severe drought conditions encountered in 2011 highlighted the inadequacy of existing drought management policies and the need to significantly improve response strategies before the next inevitable drought. Although most water suppliers are required by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to develop drought contingency plans, the plans are all too often insufficient to address the challenges faced during drought.

The Texas Living Waters Project recommends the following solutions to three major issues made evident during the current drought:

1. Drought contingency plans should incorporate the severity of meteorological conditions, or other similar indicators of drought intensity, into the triggers for drought response stages and water use reductions tied to those stages.

The triggers chosen for the implementation of different stages of a drought contingency plan, such as lake or aquifer levels, often do not take into account the relative severity of climatic conditions, an oversight that can delay meaningful responses to drought far too long.

For example, with the severe drought conditions of 2011, many communities did not trigger drought responses until well into the summer after large amounts of water had been inefficiently applied to lawns and reserves had already been driven uncomfortably low.

The prudent reaction to such severe conditions would be to initiate drought response measures earlier if a combination of recent rainfall and near-term climate predictions indicates an unusually severe drought is at hand.

Lake Travis, 2011 Drought Photo courtesty of Chase A. Fountain, TPWD

Lake Travis, 2011 Drought
Photo courtesty of Chase A. Fountain, TPWD

2. Water suppliers in a given area should develop a coordinated approach to drought contingency planning and management to reduce confusion among residents and increase the effectiveness of drought response strategies.

There is often a lack of consistency in drought contingency plans and implementation of those plans within the same geographic areas, even when water suppliers are using the same source of supply.

For example, during 2011, the City of Houston required homeowners buying water directly from the City to comply with drought restrictions. However, other homeowners, who bought water from another water supplier that, in turn, purchased water from the City of Houston, were never required to comply with any drought restrictions. Consequently different homeowners, relying on the same source of supply and located in the same area, were subject to inconsistent drought requirements. As a result, homeowners on one side of the street could be subject to restrictions on lawn watering while homeowners on the other side of the street would not be subject to any restrictions. Such situations are inefficient and inequitable and undermine public support for critically important drought restrictions.

3. Water suppliers should incorporate an appropriate drought period “surcharge” for high water use for non-essential purposes as part of their drought contingency plans.

Concerns by water suppliers about the potential for lost revenues may provide a disincentive for achieving critically necessary water use reductions during drought. A drought period “surcharge” for high water use would address this concern and provide an incentive for residents to reduce consumption.

Drought Contingency Planning

Water utilities across the state prepare for droughts by developing tactical plans, called drought contingency plans, to reduce peak demands and extend water supplies during a drought.

Drought in Texas

Droughts are, and will continue to be, a fact of life in Texas. A drought occurs when there is a lack of adequate precipitation over an extended period of time. Some part of the state is likely to be in a year-long drought once every three years.

Get Involved

Learn how you can help at home, in your community and at the state level to improve the way Texas responds to drought.

Protecting Rivers During Drought

Water supply projects such as dams, pipelines and pumps that are over-sized to meet peak demand, which could be significantly reduced during drought, negatively impact the health of our rivers, bays, fish and wildlife.

Saving Money and Water During Drought

While droughts can be economically damaging for a region, particularly in agricultural areas, effective drought response planning can help a region prepare for droughts and minimize a drought's economic impact.

State Water Planning and Drought

With the passage of Senate Bill 1 in 1997 and Senate Bill 2 in 2001, the Texas Legislature called for drought response to be an essential part of water planning in Texas.

Useful Links and Resources

Useful links to additional information on drought and drought response planning.

Water Conservation or Drought Response?

The difference between water conservation and drought response is that water conservation is an on-going effort, whereas drought response is a short-term response to a water supply shortage.