"Water-Gate: Texas State Report on Dealing with Current and Future Drought Never Mentions Climate Change"
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:
“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. These “megadroughts” appear to be infrequent but regular occurrences in our part of the world.”
But if we keep listening to the climate science deniers like those running Texas and take no action to reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, then these mega-droughts are projected to become so frequent that they may simply become the state’s natural climatology. And unlike medieval times, things will just get worse and worse and hotter and hotter for a long, long time — see NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe.
The report does spell out the grim future and “tremendous social changes” in a “Megadrought” it calls “a true worst-case scenario,” but which, tragically, is just business-as-usual for the state on our current emissions trajectory:
Say that Texas receives half of its “normal” average annual rainfall, 13 inches or so, for two decades. Our semi-tropical regions would become arid, while our semi-arid regions would become desert. This situation would create tremendous social changes.
■ Texas agriculture would change dramatically, and might end in some areas. Drip irrigation and other techniques pioneered in desert areas would become essential.
■ Remaining agriculture might become dependent on “water markets,” in which the rights to draw groundwater are bought and sold.
■ Food prices, particularly beef prices, would increase significantly.
■ Turf grass lawns and all outside watering might be banned.
■ Low-flow water appliances would become mandatory.
■ Wastewater would become quite valuable, and would be reclaimed for reuse in irrigation and perhaps treated to make it suitable for human consumption.
■ Desalination of brackish (salty) groundwater and seawater would become common, at first for industrial and agricultural uses and then for drinking water.
■ Utility rates could be expected to skyrocket due to the increased expense of water obtained through desalination or reuse, and the higher costs faced by energy plants that rely on water for cooling.
That’s just part of what Texas needs to start planning for — but it does underscore the point that failing to act on global warming guarantees massive government intrusion in our lives.
That is just the drought without the heat. When you add in the heat, it gets even worse — see NASA’s Hansen: “If We Stay on With Business as Usual, the Southern U.S. Will Become Almost Uninhabitable.”
This chart is from the NCAR model, which factors the heat in with the aridity in projecting soil moisture around the world (click to enlarge, “a reading of -4 or below is considered extreme drought”):
The PDSI [Palmer Drought Severity Index] in the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl apparently spiked very briefly to -6, but otherwise rarely exceeded -3 for the decade (see here).
The large-scale pattern shown in Figure 11 [of which the figure above is part] appears to be a robust response to increased GHGs. This is very alarming because if the drying is anything resembling Figure 11, a very large population will be severely affected in the coming decades over the whole United States, southern Europe, Southeast Asia, Brazil, Chile, Australia, and most of Africa.
NCAR notes “By the end of the century, many populated areas, including parts of the United States, could face readings in the range of -8 to -10, and much of the Mediterranean could fall to -15 to -20. Such readings would be almost unprecedented.”
This is Texas:
The NCAR study merely models the IPCC’s “moderate” A1B scenario — atmospheric concentrations of CO2 around 520 ppm in 2050 and 700 in 2100. We’re currently on the A1F1 pathway — and we’d certainly stay on that path if it were left up to the folks running Texas — which would takes us to 1000 ppm by century’s end.
In a 2010 presentation, Texas Climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe has a figure of what the A1FI would mean temperature-wise:
As I wrote in my recent Nature piece on dust-bowlification and the grave threat it poses to food security, the very word ‘desert’ comes from the Latin desertum for ‘an abandoned place’. That’s what Texans will ultimately have to plan for if the country continues to embrace their preferred strategy of denial and inaction.