Posted: December 8th, 2008 under Water, Weather.

Our area is at least sixteen inches below average annual rainfall this year–that’s means we’ve had less than half the average.    The “at least” is because what rain we’ve had has been spotty–one place might get four inches and another none, from the same weather system.

In addition to the lack of rainfall, aquifers and reservoirs both are sinking.  One of our town’s four wells isn’t producing at all, and the other three are pumping less than normal.  A development-friendly county government has supported rapid growth, both residential and commercial, with the predictable (but not to them) growth in demand for water…hence many new wells, all tapping the same resource…shallow wells tapping the groundwater that used to supply springs and small creeks in dry years, and deep wells (to Trinity Sands, the main deep aquifer) for “permanent” water.   Creeks and springs–even one river–have dried up completely in the past year.

From the land manager’s perspective, rainfall is THE water resource in this part of the world.   We have two “rain barns” to collect and store rainwater (and are working on another–trusses for its roof are finished and being painted.)   This stored water provides permanent (we hope) water for wildlife at three different sites and each site is optimized for a different use.

Wildlife (and re-introduction of native plants to improve natural food supplies and habitat) must have reliable water.  This year, it was all we could do to keep the wildlife supply going.  We lost approximately 90% (maybe more–we’ll know next spring) of the past two years’ worth of plantings because we could not provide enough water…what we could provide, we allocated to a few of the plantings easiest to reach with a bucket.

But if it doesn’t rain…there’s nothing to collect.   I designed the collection area/storage capacity for a little below the previously recorded worst-case–ten inches a year–but that’s where we are right now.

The bright spot in this is the response of the original (and re-introduced) natives that didn’t croak.   The deep-rooted tallgrass dominants stayed green: big bluestem, switchgrass, Indiangrass, little bluestem, even eastern gama (the water lover of the bunch) are all fine (so far.)   Up on the dryest area (a rocky knoll with very thin soil, if any) some didn’t make it–even agarita, which normally grows out of rock anyway–but some did.  We have more two-leaved senna and partridge pea than before.   We have a new odd milkweed (the experts are still arguing over it.)  The Mirabilis alba and Pitcher Sage have both spread this year, and the Maximilian Sunflower, though less than half the height in an average year, has continued to spread sideways in its clumps.

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