Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues.  Graduate student Ethan Bodnaruk makes this connection here…

The news article referenced, As Texas Bakes in a Long Drought, Water Becomes a Focus for Legislators, is from the New York Times and is dated January 12, 2013.  This article relates to the hydrology of droughts and arid regions, as well as hydraulic infrastructure needed to provide growing urban centers with adequate supplies of water while also meeting ecological or ecosystem needs.  The article highlights the severity of the current Texas-wide drought that began in Fall 2010.  It is currently the third worst drought in Texas since measurements began in 1895, but it has the potential to be the worst, as it is forecasted to continue for several months (seen in Figure 2).  Texas does have a 50-year water plan that addresses drought conditions and the water infrastructure needed to meet the demands of a rapidly growing population and industry.  The plan is under-funded, however, and the legislature has only recently decided to fund it in the very short-term by borrowing money from an emergency fund earmarked for officially designated emergencies (which this is not).  The article did not discuss the details of the 50-year plan or the infrastructure planned, although it did state that 20% of the $2 billion used from the emergency fund would go toward water reuse and conservation.  It is not possible to ascertain weaknesses or improvements to the water plan without further details, or to perform any kind of cost-benefit or optimization analysis on the mix of infrastructure, reuse, conservation, and ecological considerations it takes into account.  The article did, however, accurately give a sense of the overall challenges of water use, drought, and population growth in arid portions of the United States.  Additional information on the 50-year plan and the specific weather-related causes of the drought can be found at http://www.window.state.tx.us/comptrol/fnotes/fn1202/water.php, and information on drought forecasts and drought indices (measuring the level of drought) can be found at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/news/us-drought-monitor-update-january-22-2013.  This information would be critical for any quantifiable analysis of Texas water needs and solutions. 

The broader context of this article involves local and state economies, agricultural and business sectors, environmental groups and concerns, and the politics that address these water issues.  The article highlights these broader contexts, citing the impact on farmers and the coalitions of environmental and business leaders that are supporting the use of borrowed emergency funds to meet the water plan’s budget for the upcoming few years.  Another source that addresses the link between droughts and agriculture/livestock is the US Dept. of Agriculture’s World Agriculture Outlook Board at http://www.usda.gov/oce/commodity/index.htm.  Although many communities are finding it difficult to properly fund, implement, and possibly develop effective water plans, there is a clear-cut relationship between water use, scarcity, and the needs of population, industry, and agriculture.  If water use is not met and planned for, then disruptions to everyday activities, industry, and threats to human health and ecological systems will occur.  Without needed investments in water resources and sufficient foresight, future increased water use and droughts (when they occur) will have a greater impact to many areas of society.  These impacts are almost sure to outweigh the costs of developing adequate and environmentally sound water infrastructure. 


Figure 1: US Drought Monitor for January 29, 2013. Parts of Texas are in severe drought conditions, but others are not. Recent rain have eased it in some areas, but drought is expected to worsen across the state.


Figure 2: Seasonal drought outlook for the United States through April 30, 2013. Forecasts the persistence or intensification of drought in Texas and the development of drought for areas not currently experiencing it.


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: US Drought Monitor Update. Jan 22, 2013.  Available online: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/news/us-drought-monitor-update-january-22-2013

National Pubic Radio, Dried Out: Confronting the Texas Drought.  Accessed Jan 31, 2013.  Available online:  http://stateimpact.npr.org/texas/drought/.

Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Texas State Government.  Water Planning in Dry Times.  March 2012.  Available online:  http://www.window.state.tx.us/comptrol/fnotes/fn1202/water.php

YNN News, Despite rain, Texas on track for worst drought on record.  Jan 12, 2013. Available online: http://austin.ynn.com/content/top_stories/289938/despite-rain–texas-on-track-for-worst-drought-on-record