Experts offer grim outlook for Wichita Falls drought relief

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by JIM DOUGLAS

Bio | Email | Follow: @wfaajdouglas

WFAA

Posted on June 24, 2014 at 6:27 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 25 at 12:50 AM

WICHITA FALLS — Wichita Falls is in its worst drought ever. And the region could remain susceptible to dry conditions for another decade.

That was the message Tuesday from Texas State Climatologist John Nielson-Gammon. He was among several experts who presented a program to about 200 people at a drought outlook and assessment forum in Wichita Falls.

Charming old homes on Pembroke Street tell the story: "Pray for rain" yard signs, a dying magnolia, and an elm tree kept alive thanks to the homeowner’s clean living.

“We’re watering it with water from our washing machine,” Sharon Hyde explained.

Hyde attended the drought forum to hear directly from scientists.

Sam Hermitte with the Texas Water Development Board said that in the worst case, Wichita Falls’ three reservoir lakes will go dry by August 2016. But under current conditions, they would last a little longer.

The reservoirs are currently 22 percent full, down from 89 percent before the heat of 2011.

Hermitte showed a slide with yellow and red dots, indicating reservoirs drying up across the state west of Interstate 35.

“We’ve got to find some ground water, if that means building a pipe from here to wherever,” said Wichita Falls Mayor Glenn Barham.

He said the city has cut consumption in half, banned all outdoor watering, and closed car washes two days a week.

Wichita Falls will soon save more water by piping treated sewer effluent directly to the water treatment plant for reuse. Some deride it as “toilet-to-tap.” It’s formally called “direct potable reuse.”

The city manager said that source could provide more than one-third of the city’s daily consumption.

But Mayor Barham said Wichita Falls may also have to pipe in water from the Texas Panhandle.

“Projects we’re looking at are in the $600-to-700 million range,” he said.

Klaus Wolter of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offered some hope. The expert on El Niño predicted a possible moderate increase in rain this fall and winter.

But a climatologist who helped author a recent national study on the impact of climate change painted a bleaker long-term picture. Mark Shafer, with the University of Oklahoma, said that by mid-century, what is now our hottest week will last for a month.

The extreme heat will extend to months by the end of the 21st century.

“2011 will be the new normal,” Shafer said.

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

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