Texas storm improved drought in least dire areas

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Associated Press

Posted on December 17, 2013 at 9:32 PM

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — The ice storm that immobilized the Dallas-Fort Worth area this month slightly improved drought conditions in parts of North Texas, but despite the extra moisture, watersheds that feed the Austin and San Antonio areas are still low.

"There hasn't been much runoff," Texas' state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said of water sources west of Interstate 35.

The Edwards Aquifer Authority returned to tighter limits Monday as the aquifer's level dipped again, and most suppliers who rely on water from Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan are in some stage of conservation as the lake levels flirt with record lows.

The late October rainfall and flooding in the Austin area missed the lakes' watersheds by about 10 miles, said Lower Colorado River Authority spokeswoman Clara Tuma.

"If that rain had fallen just a few miles upstream in the Highland Lakes it could have made a significant difference," she said.

As of Tuesday, the two lakes combined were 37 percent full.

Fortunately, winter brings fewer water demands.

"It's not as hot, so evaporation is not the factor it is in the summer months, and people don't need to water their lawns as much," Tuma said.

Without good rains this winter, though, most rice farmers in in Colorado, Wharton and Matagorda counties could go a third straight year without irrigation water from the two lakes for their crops. The Lower Colorado authority has asked the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for emergency drought relief if on March 1 there is not 1.1 million acre-feet in Travis and Buchanan combined. On Tuesday, the two lakes held 754,200 acre-feet.

The commission will rule early next year.

In San Antonio, the Edwards Aquifer Authority had eased pumping restrictions Nov. 6 after good rainfall in the region. But, as the San Antonio Express-News reported Monday, the authority has now returned to tighter restrictions.

The state's precipitation outlook through February calls for equal chances for precipitation that's above, below or near normal in most of Texas. In West Texas, though, the prediction is for below-normal rainfall.

The ice storm that pounded North Texas the first full weekend in December cancelled hundreds of flights and cut electricity to more than a quarter of a million homes and businesses.

The worst areas of drought — in extreme and exceptional categories — in the northern half of the state continue to be northwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, near Wichita Falls and Vernon.

The moisture that came to Dallas and Fort Worth improved drought conditions that weren't that dire beforehand. The ice took parts of four counties from severe to moderate drought. Other counties that had been in moderate drought are now abnormally dry, a one-category improvement.

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