Texas Comptroller water-planning report also fails to brings up the growing role of natural gas fracking
Ironically, the cover of a major Texas report on drought and water planning points out that it’s been “dry” and “hot” and implies humans have some control over the state’s thermostat. But the report is silent on human contribution to the heat and drought now and in the future — and is thus dangerously misleading as a planning document.
Can a state devastated by its most severe hot-weather drought on record actually release a water-planning report on the future of drought in Texas that never mentions global warming? Sadly, the answer is yes in the case of “The Impact of the 2011 Drought and Beyond,” by Susan Combs, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.
The state’s climate science denial, led by Denier-In-Chief Rick Perry, is much more than purely rhetorical in nature. It is leaving the residents of Texas wholly unprepared for what is to come, including the devastation of much of the state’s agriculture, as this report unintentionally makes clear.
Texas A&M University, professor of atmospheric sciences, Dr. Andrew Dessler, writes me:
“This report is consistent with the Texas State Government’s position of ‘See no climate change, hear no climate change, speak no climate change.’ The report goes out of its way to try to suggest that the recent drought was entirely due to natural cycles, but that is an untenable scientific position. Given how much carbon we’ve loaded into the atmosphere, the question is not whether humans are affecting the Texas weather, but exactly how. I’m sorry the report let politics trump science.”
The state has already worked to censor efforts to inform citizens on its coast of the impact of warming-driven sea level rise — see Flood-Gate: Perry Officials Try to Hide Sea Level Rise from Texans with “Clear-Cut Unadulterated Censorship.”
But this new report is much worse since it bills itself as a planning report for the whole state on its most crucial problem — water:
As Comptroller, one of my responsibilities is to analyze trends that affect the state’s bottom line. And the terrible drought of 2011 underlined a particularly important factor that could have far-reaching impacts on Texas’ growth and prosperity.
Our water resources are finite. Planning for and managing our water use is perhaps the most important task facing Texas policymakers in the 21st century.
My office is pleased to present Gauging the Economic Impact of the 2011 Drought and Beyond, which discusses the current drought and its impacts on the state; current and future water resources in Texas; and innovative solutions governments in Texas and elsewhere are using to solve the water crisis.
The current drought is the worst single-year Texas drought since record-keeping began — and it may prove to be one of most devastating economic events in our history. Estimates by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service put Texas agricultural losses for the year at $5.2 billion. A December economic analysis by BBVA Compass Bank found that indirect drought losses to the state’s agricultural industries could add another $3.5 billion to the toll….
Drought is an ever-present concern in many parts of the state, leading to pressure on our water infrastructure. According to the Texas Water Development Board [TWDB], demand for water will rise by 22 percent by 2060. The board says that, should we experience another multi-year “drought of record” such as that of the 1950s, it could cost Texas businesses and workers $116 billion in income by 2060.
Obviously the Comptroller doesn’t really believe that planning for and managing water use could be the most important task facing Texas policymakers — or else her report on the subject would take the subject more seriously and have significant discussions of two key factors, manmade climate change and hydraulic fracking.
Natural gas hydraulic fracturing is perhaps the thirstiest new source of water consumption in the state (see here). The TWDB projects total water usage for fracking statewide was 13.5 billion gallons in 2010 and will likely more than double by 2020. In one District west of Fort Worth, “the share of groundwater used by frackers was 40% in the first half of 2011, up from 25% in 2010.” It is inconceivable one could do serious water planning in Texas without an analysis of the impact of fracking. Yet the report says nothing whatsoever about fracking except to put it in a long list of ways one could use treated wastewater.
Many, many recent studies make clear that global warming will be among the biggest drivers of drought and water-related problems in Texas and the rest of the South-West in the coming decades. In 2007, Science (subs. req’d) published research that “predicted a permanent drought by 2050 throughout the Southwest” — levels of aridity comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl would stretch from Kansas to California.
A 2010 literature review and analysis from the National Center for Atmospheric Research [NCAR], “Drought under global warming” warned:
“The United States and many other heavily populated countries face a growing threat of severe and prolonged drought in coming decades … possibly reaching a scale in some regions by the end of the century that has rarely, if ever, been observed in modern times.”
Another 2010 study warned the U.S. southwest could see a 60-year drought like that of 12th century — only hotter — this century:
An unprecedented combination of heat plus decades of drought could be in store for the Southwest sometime this century, suggests new research from a University of Arizona-led team….
“The bottom line is, we could have a Medieval-style drought with even warmer temperatures,” [lead author Connie] Woodhouse said.
But the Texas water planning report has nothing to say about global warming. It selectively quotes state Climatologist Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon at length on the causes of 2011′s shortfall in precipitation. It doesn’t offer even one of the numerous statements by scientists about the impact of record heat on this drought, including Nielsen-Gammon himself, who said, “There is evidence that global warming has had an effect on the drought, primarily by increasing the surface temperature, which increases the drought severity by increasing evaporation and water stress, and by decreasing stream flow and water supply.”
The report itself notes, “drought and unprecedented heat made 2011 the worst year for wildfires in Texas history” — but again is silent on how humans contribute to the unprecedented heat and the ever worsening wildfire seasons.
The report does point out that Texas has been hit by extremely severe droughts in the past: