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Drought May Cause Shutdown of Texas Rice Production

By Joe Romm on February 4, 2012 at 4:05 pm

"Drought May Cause Shutdown of Texas Rice Production"

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By Andrew Freedman, in a Climate Central repost

Although recent rains have put a dent in the Texas drought, a day of reckoning looms for the state’s long-grain rice growers, who pump millions into the economy in Southeast Texas each year and account for about 5 percent of America’s rice production. Come March 1, if there is less than 850,000 acre-feet of water in reservoirs along the Lower Colorado River, water managers will be forced to take the unprecedented step of withholding water from agricultural users, which will mean severe cuts to Texas rice production this year.

According to Bob Rose, chief meteorologist with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), it’s unlikely that enough rain will fall between now and March 1 to reach the 850,000 acre-feet threshold that was established by a recent agreement between the authority and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. An acre-foot is the amount of water required to cover one acre of land to a depth of one foot, and it amounts to about 326,000 gallons.

As of January 30, the highland lakes that serve as the area’s reservoirs held about 758,000 acre-feet.

“This is going to be a huge, huge deal,” Rose said during a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in New Orleans. “What’s going to happen is that there will be no water for rice irrigation in the Lower Colorado River Basin this year.”

Driving the Lower Colorado River Authority’s decision-making is the need to ensure there is enough water to meet the demand from Austin, the rapidly growing state capital that is completely reliant on water from the Lower Colorado River, as well as other municipalities and users, such as electric utilities that need water to run power plants.

The agricultural water restrictions would hit three Southeast Texas counties the hardest: Colorado, Matagordo, and Wharton. According to a 2011 analysis by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, the combined direct and indirect economic benefits of rice production and processing in these three counties alone amounts to $675 million, including the support of nearly 9,000 jobs.

“This will be a huge blow to the region’s economy,” Rose told Climate Central. “We have never had a year where we have curtailed their [rice growers’] water or cut them off” completely, he said.

The 2011-12 drought ranks as the state’s most intense one-year drought since records began in 1895. The drought has had major impacts on agriculture in the Lone Star State, particularly for cattle ranchers, causing at least $5.2 billion in agricultural losses during 2011. This includes $1.8 billion in cotton losses, $750 million in lost hay production, and $243 million in wheat losses.

Texas is the largest cattle ranching state in the country, and the dry weather, combined with record summer heat and shortage of affordable feed this year caused many ranchers to cull their herds early or move their cattle to ranches in other states. The Texas cattle herd dropped by 11 percent during 2011, which translates to more than a million head of cattle.

Scientists say the drought is a likely result of a La Nina event in the Pacific Ocean, which tends to depress rainfall totals in Texas, particularly during the winter. However, global warming has likely exacerbated the drought and led to more heat extremes last summer, according to Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.

Brent Batchelor, who works for Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Matagorda County, said rice growers there are “hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.”

“They’re very apprehensive because we’re a long ways from getting any water,” he said. He added that even if the reservoirs do rise above 850,000 acre-feet, rice growers would still receive less water than normal through a system of Lower Colorado River Authority-managed canals.

Although it boosted morale, an unusually heavy January rainstorm was not enough to significantly raise reservoir levels, which remain about 100,000 acre-feet shy of the threshold, according to Rose. “We still have about five weeks till March 1, so it’s possible we could see another storm like this. But the overall pattern still looks drier than normal. I’m not very optimistic at this point,” he said.

The Weather Service’s Murphy said the long-range weather outlook calls for a drier than average February, although he noted that dry weather was forecast for December and January, and both months turned out to be wetter than average.

By Andrew Freedman, in a Climate Central repost

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“Obviously, that’s a pretty heavy draw on an aquifer when we’re in the midst of a drought,” says Bob Patterson, UTGCD’s general manager. In his water district, 40 to 50 wells have run dry and many municipalities have declared stage two or stage three drought conditions, which involve severe restrictions on residential outdoor water use. But natural gas drillers can still pump as much water from the district as they want….

Critics of fracking claim the industry actually uses far more water than it lets on. Because water used in the fracking process becomes contaminated with hydrocarbons and other toxins, frackers typically sequester it deep underground, removing that wastewater permanently from the hydrologic cycle. Unlike the water used for irrigation or daily living, it doesn’t reenter rivers, aquifers, or the atmosphere. “Fracking water is typically not recycled,” says Paul Hudak, a hydrologist with the University of North Texas. “It’s not really economical.”

 

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21 Responses to Drought May Cause Shutdown of Texas Rice Production

  1. Joan Savage says:

    It looks like the Austin electronics manufacturers got a favored water policy compared to the rice farmers.

  2. prokaryotes says:

    Texas doesn’t care. They might eventually start thinking when there is an empty supermarket shelfs in front of their eyes.

    • prokaryotes says:

      The response should be: Task Force, immidiate actions to tackle everything Greenhouse Gas, a stimulus programm to spur a fast paced new economy (with everybody included).

      What the hell are you waiting for? Wake up!

  3. prokaryotes says:

    Beyond ‘dangerous’ climate change: emission scenarios for a new world

    The analysis suggests that despite high-level statements to the contrary, there is now little to no chance of maintaining the global mean surface temperature at or below 2◦C. Moreover, the impacts associated with 2◦C have been revised upwards, sufficiently so that 2◦C now more appropriately represents the threshold between ‘dangerous’ and ‘extremely dangerous’ climate change. Ultimately, the science of climate change allied with the emission scenarios for Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 nations suggests a radically different framing of the mitigation and adaptation challenge from that accompanying many other analyses, particularly those directly informing policy. http://www.fraw.org.uk/files/climate/anderson_2011.pdf

    • Lou Grinzo says:

      First, everyone please download and read the PDF prokaryotes linked to above.

      Second, I hope people take a minute to think about the situation we’ve put ourselves in, in terms of the chain of causality. Briefly:

      1. We emit a lot of CO2.

      2. A large portion of it stays in the atmosphere for a long time.

      3. That CO2 causes warming.

      4. The warming causes amplifying feedback loops to kick in — melting the Arctic ice and causing the open ocean up there to absorb much more heat from sunlight, and liberating permafrost carbon being just the two most obvious examples. Thus we have even more warming.

      5. The warming in turn kicks off a bunch of knock-on effects, like droughts, floods, and sea level rise, plus more obvious things like heat waves and disruptions in weather patterns. (Look at the incredibly mild winter much the US has had this year, while much of the EU is suffering with extreme cold.)

      We have an extremely good handle on 1 and 2, as they’re easy to measure directly or calculate from things like fossil fuel consumption numbers. We have a very good idea of 3, in terms of both transient and equilibrium response. Item 4 is a little dodgy; we know the feedbacks do not work in our favor and are sizable, but the exact size and timing are open to some debate. Item 5 is a mixed bag; some things, like sea level rise, are much easier to predict than disrupted weather patterns, but the overall effect is definitely not good news. Kicking the system out of the state it’s been in for thousands of years, when we have 7 billion people depending on infrastructure that was built to match our version 1.0 planet is a very, very bad idea.

      The problem is that what we care about is the impacts on human beings, which come at the end of this chain. And that means we have to work the chain backwards to go from an “acceptable” level of impact to the maximum CO2 emissions that won’t exceed it. What we’re finding out is that feedbacks and knock-on effects are much worse than we thought a couple of decades (or even years) ago, which means all our assumptions about what a “safe” level of warming is and how much we can afford to emit desperately need revising; we’re talking about a set of made-up rules (like the infamous 2C limit) that very likely are wrong, and not in a convenient way.

    • Joan Savage says:

      The Anderson and Bows abstract also uses the phrase, “global mean surface temperature at or below 2◦C.” I hope they, and you, actually mean a temperature rise of less than 2◦C. In their conclusions they use clearer language. (p 40 print/p 22 pdf)

      If the global mean temperature of the planet were actually at or below 2C, we’d be deep in an ice age.

      • prokaryotes says:

        This pdf is on my reading list, but when referrign to the global mean temps, the base lien must be acknowledged.

        example, how NASA puts it:

        ..global mean land-ocean temperature index, 1880 to present, with the base period 1951-1980 http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs_v3/

        • Joan Savage says:

          You probably know this but for the record.. The base line in the NASA charts is a composite of local mean temperatures in that time interval, so it does not represent a single global temperature. The scale is for a composite temperature anomaly from the composite baselines. (Somebody else would probably be more technical.)

          Coming up with a single average global temperature like the erroneous 2C, or more commonly 12C+ or the hypothetical Silurian-Cretaceous 25C, is only useful on a very macro-scale. I think Anderson and Bows simple over-wrote in their abstract and intended to spread a warning about consequences from a temperature increase of less than 2C.

    • fencepostman says:

      The line of reasoning Anderson is putting forward is worth studying. He is the former Director of the Tyndall Centre in the UK by the way. Anderson lays it out in a speech delivered to the London School of Economics here. David Roberts at Grist described Anderson’s views in a series of columns – here, here, here, here. In the runup to Copenhagen, Nature magazine published an earlier version of it as several articles in a special issue. Anderson’s latest work updates the Nature line. “That ship has sailed”, he says. The crisis has intensified.

      One point Anderson makes is that the focus on percentage emission reductions by date, i.e. we’ve got to reduce CO2 85% by 2050, etc, leads to complacency and fuzzy thinking. You can always put off decisive action for a year or two then you or your descendants can make up for it later on, you might think. He points out that if you look at the problem as there are only a limited number of more tonnes of CO2 that can be emitted by civilization before committing the planet to change well beyond dangerous, it starts to become clear that using up the budget by increasing global emissions now leads to a commitment for the rate of reduction we are expecting ourselves in a few years or our descendants in a few decades to be able to accomplish that is regarded in all contemporary studies as impossible. We face climate change of a magnitude that civilization will find impossible to face (he says “incompatible with an organized global community”) that we cannot avoid now without accomplishing an impossible rate of emission reduction.

      The concluding sentence in that Anderson paper you cite is this: “”…this is not a message of futility, but a wake-up call of where our rose-tinted spectacles have brought us. Real hope, if it is to arise at all, will do so from a bare assessment of the scale of the challenge we now face”

      I wrote a bit more on this topic here

  4. Tim says:

    We may have dodged a bullet. I live in Brazos county, which has been in the ‘exceptional drought’ category as long as any place in the state of Texas (since April 2011). December was the first month in over a year to have reached average rainfall, and January nearly made it too. From 6 PM yesterday to 5 AM this morning, we had over 6 inches of rain, putting us at twice the average rainfall for the year so far. The reseviors are still low and the aquifer still needs recharging, but things are looking significantly better thasn they did three months ago.

  5. Scrooge says:

    Its one thing to sit back and watch the deniers help destroy TX but when I look at NCAR https://www2.ucar.edu/atmosnews/news/2904/climate-change-drought-may-threaten-much-globe-within-decades we have to realize what people like the TX governor may be doing to the rest of us.

    • a face in the clouds says:

      A warning like this coming from a mild-mannered guy like Bob Rose should be multiplied by ten.

      Downstream interests in Texas should also follow developments in the northeastern part of the state. This region receives (or used to receive) upwards of 50 inches of rain annually. However, the combination of a destructive, ongoing drought and unwise water agreements with the conservation-deaf DFW Metroplex has created the possibility of a double whammy for growers further south.

  6. Wow. Yet more confirmation that we are inflating the Saudi Arabia of economic bubbles with our headlong rush into more fossil fuel production.

    As the weather gets more dangerous the value of fossil fuel assets will evaporate.

    Right now it is like a game of Hot Potato! Until humanity gets kicked by climate damage one too many times, then owning big-carbon assets seems to be big money maker. But whoever is holding them when climate forces people to get serious, will lose their shirt.

  7. Skeptical Science has a 2nd post on the Hansen et al. 2011 global temperature analysis:

    NASA scientists expect more rapid global warming in the very near future (part 2)

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/NASA-scientists-expect-more-rapid-global-warming-in-the-very-near-future-part-2.html

    • Raul M. says:

      Yes, that is a clear explanation of how the bell curve could shift to the warmer even more than it just recently did.
      At least two reasons
      A) El Nino
      B) sun gets hotter still
      C) time lag for recent heating from sun being hotter

  8. MorinMoss says:

    Keep in mind that natural carbon sinks such as vegetation / microbial soils / oceans offset about 1/2 of our CO2 emissions.

    This is a good thing for us – for as long as it lasts.
    If that were to change significantly in a negative direction, we would be very badly screwed.

  9. Mark says:

    growing rice in Texas? ridiculous.

    • Tim says:

      Areas near the Gulf of Mexico get a lot of rain and can support rice production quite reasonably – especially if they get modest irrigation assistance during dry spells. Climate change will change that for some of the marginal areas. The bigger problem is the poor management of water in the some of the fastest growing urban areas in the US – Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. None of these stack up in the human stupidity sweepstakes with the Las Vegas and Phoenix – they’ve got to be two of the most unsustainable cities in the world.

      • fencepostman says:

        Phoenix wins the stupid cities sweepstakes. Arizona politicians subordinated their state’s water rights to California back in the 1960s so California would stop opposing and instead vote in Congress to help Arizona tap into a big federal grant to move the water into the Phoenix area. They got decades of phenomenal economic growth out of it. But if an “unprecedented” situation develops in the way of water shortage, Arizona gets cut off.

        I don’t understand why there’s all this concern about what happens to these areas. With all due respect, the US needs a big shock like Texas drying up completely to resemble the Sahara, or a mass migration out of the dried up crisp of Phoenix and the Sun Corridor to finally discredit denialism. We need the biggest crisis Nature can cook up as quickly as possible.

  10. Raul M. says:

    recently heard that a nearby grower is going to show hydroponics works by having lush veggies for sale.