Rice farmers that depend on water in from the Colorado are entering their third year of drought, according to the Houston Chronicle today.
A year ago, Dick Ottis prayed and prayed for rain, but it did not come before Colorado River managers had decided for the first time to withhold irrigation water from many of the rice farmers whose crops fill his warehouses.
He continued to pray as the drought extended into a second year, knowing it would take a biblical-like storm to fill the Highland Lakes near Austin with enough water by Friday to trigger releases for downstream growers. The rain didn’t come, so most farmers will go without water. Again.
“I did not think it would happen again,” said Ottis, president of Rice Belt Warehouse Inc., based in El Campo, about 80 miles southwest of Houston. “It is gut-wrenching.”
The state is in danger of losing its rice industry as the drought continues. Indeed its agricultural and ranching base has been severely compromised already as farmers losses have mounted, ranchers have reduced or sold off their herds, and other businesses depending on the states agriculture industry have been affected. Two years into the drought, and there is fear that the losses could become permanent.
“It is not a pleasant long-term picture,” said Ronald Kaiser, a professor of water law and policy at Texas A&M University. “A lot of these folks have a year left, maybe two. Once these allied businesses disappear, they won’t be back. The producers need them.”
There is no mention of climate change in the article. Many of us here in Texas do not believe in, or are at least skeptical, of the notion that the climate is changing, or that if it is that humans have anything to do with it. And if there are one or two Republican politicians in the State government or in our congressional delegation who will admit to the fact of anthropogenic climate change, I am unaware of who they are.
Yet the facts are these: Besides the fact that average temperatures are increasing, temperatures in the polar regions are increasing particularly rapidly. Oil industry people in Texas are aware of this because of their presence in Alaska and on the North Slope, where the sea has been taking Inuit villages, the permafrost has been melting, cutting short the season when drilling can occur. This in accord with the predictions of the physics of climate science, which says that as the globe warms due to an enhanced greenhouse effect, the temperature increase will not be uniform, but that the polar regions will warm more rapidly than the temperate zones.
The weather patterns in the temperate zones where most of us live are driven by the temperature difference between the tropics and the polar regions. As the temperature difference decreases there are at least two major effects. For one, the Hadley cell is affected. This refers to the fact that in the tropics, warm moisture laden air rises. As it does so it moves north, cools, drops its moisture, and eventually returns to earth at higher latitudes. This downdraft of dry air is a major cause of the desert regions of North America, Africa and Asia. A lower polar to tropic temperature difference moves the cell north, extending these arid regions into presently non-arid areas, in all likelihood.
Secondly warm and cool fronts are associated with atmospheric waves which generally move from west to east in the Northern Hemisphere. As the temperature difference decreases, these waves do not move as easily as before, and can get locked in place for extended periods of time. The extended drought of 2011 was associated with such a wave that stabilized over the western portion of the country.
The drought of the last couple of years has been historic, a once in a half century event, at least in the experience of living persons. However, if climate science is correct, then we can expect more frequent droughts, more severe droughts, because we have affected the weather patterns. Before such an event was a fluke, always a possibility, but one that was rare. Now the probabilities may have changed and we will see a different normal. Of course we will have to wait for years for this to be verified by experience, but this is what the science is telling us.
On the other side of the ledger, we have mostly politization of the issue, along with an intense desire for it not to be so. This probably means that if Texas has anything to say about it, we will continue to do nothing differently for several more years, at least.