The Corpus Christi City Council received grim news last week concerning the drought outlook for the city over the next six months.
John Metz, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, highlighted the path of this year’s La Niña season, and how South Texas will continue to be affected with lower-than-expected rainfall for the rest of this year.
Looking at just annual rainfall numbers, over the last 20 years, a wet year was immediately followed by a dry year, Metz said, though the state has faced some longer dry spells in the past.
“La Niña is not good for Texas since it induces drought-type conditions. We have had five to six consecutive years of relatively little rainfall periods in Texas in the past,” Metz said. “What we are looking at now are two consecutive dry years, which we haven’t seen in this area for a long time.”
La Niña refers to a period when Pacific Ocean water temperatures are colder than normal, sending the jet stream to the north and increasing local chances for hurricane activity, Metz said. The area experienced a La Niña cycle starting in May 2010 through to May of this year. Metz said the effects lingered through the summer from the last La Niña, and La Niña conditions have now returned.
‘That’s not good news. It’s setting up dry high pressure over the U.S. We went from the wettest water year in 2010 to the driest year in 2011. We will have rain this year, but more than likely, though, it will be less than normal,” Metz said. “We can expect half the amount of rainfall we would normally see in the next six months. We are also likely to have an active wildfire season this fall and winter with persistent drought.”
Corpus Christi Director of Water Operations Gus Gonzalez said in four months time, the city will be sitting at a 60 percent water level available at Lake Corpus Christi and Choke Canyon Reservoir.
The city uses about 10,000 acre feet a month, Gonzalez said. At that usage point, and with the expected six-month forecast, the city could hit 50 percent by May or June.
“The reservoir level is at 59.9 percent currently, about 8 feet down in both reservoirs, dropping down about one-tenth of one percent each day. With cooler weather, evaporation rates will drop by February, and we’ll hit 50 percent in the reservoirs,” Gonzalez said.
The current drought contingency plan calls for voluntary restrictions at 50 percent, with mandatory restrictions in place when the water levels reach 40 percent. Gonzalez said the city staff would like to revisit the plan in a month in order to raise the voluntary restrictions to the 60 percent level.
City Councilwoman Nelda Martinez said residents are mindful of past droughts and she hoped they would think things through when it came to water conservation. She said many other cities have restrictions such as no lawn or vegetation watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. as part of their ordinance.
“This should be put into something with more teeth than at the 40 percent level,” Martinez said.
Gonzalez pointed out that along with the yields from the two reservoirs, the city also receives 41,000 acre feet from Lake Texarkana as part of an annual take or pay contract.
Councilman Mark Scott said people often misinterpret statements by city officials, claiming the city is at 50 percent capacity.
“That’s all anyone hears, ‘Oh my, we are at 50 percent capacity at our reservoirs, we better shut it down and lock the door behind you,’ when in fact, it is not the case. We have 50 percent water supply in those two reservoirs, plus an additional 41,000 acre feet, which again tells the world, with all things considered, we are in pretty good shape,” Scott said.