The drought may have receded in much of Texas, but reservoir levels are, if anything, worse in many areas than they were a year ago, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
“If we look at the major urban cities, particularly from the Metroplex down the Interstate 35 corridor, on down to San Antonio, it’s pretty dire,” said Dr. Guy Fipps, AgriLife Extension irrigation engineer, College Station.
According to the Texas Water Development Board, monitored water supply reservoirs were about 65 percent full as of Feb. 17. But the number is misleading, Fipps said, because the average is skewed by many of the larger reservoirs in East Texas, such as the Jacksonville Reservoir, which is full.
“What we see out in East Texas, the reservoir levels are pretty good, but if we move to the central part of the state, we really have pretty low reservoir levels, and in some places, it’s even worse than it was last year,” he said.
Cities will see continuing water-use restrictions, according to Fipps. As far as agricultural interests, it depends upon where they are, but many who depend upon river water will likely see recurring cutbacks in water allocations.
Some of the lowest reservoirs are those fed by the Rio Grande River, such as Amistad reservoir in Val Verde County at 62.6 percent full and Falcon Reservoir, southeast of Laredo at 33.8 percent, he said.
“This water (in both reservoirs) is shared between Texas and Mexico, and cities in Texas have priority over agriculture, so it looks like another bad year for Texas farmers and irrigation districts in the lower Rio Grande Basin,” Fipps said. “And the Highland Lakes around Austin, they’re running really low, which also bodes really bad for downstream agricultural water users and even cities there in the Austin area, which will likely see continuing yard watering restrictions.”
The problem is that the rainfall hasn’t been evenly distributed across the state, he said.
“Here in the Bryan, College Station area, where I live, we’ve received lots of rainfall, but we don’t have reservoirs around here, as we rely on groundwater,” Fipps said.
“If you look to the Hill Country and in northwest Texas, where most of the rainfall would have had to occur to fill the reservoirs, they just haven’t had any rains to create runoff.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Central: Rain continued to delay fieldwork. However, producers were mostly finished topdressing wheat, and soils needed to warm up before they could plant plant. Most were fully ready to plant corn. Small grains were doing very well. Warm conditions helped winter grass and wheat growth providing good grazing. Lots of lush, green grazing of small grains was available to cattle. Soil moisture remained good, but stock tanks and lakes needed runoff.
Coastal Bend: Producers were preparing for planting as fields started to dry out. However, most were still too wet for fieldwork. Soil conditions did allow for some bedding work but not in all areas. In some areas, conditions allowed for planting corn. Aerial spraying was going strong as farmers in some areas tried to stay on top of controlling weeds despite wet conditions. Livestock were in good shape as producers continued to feed hay and protein. Winter pastures were progressing well. Early peach varieties were blooming, but many warm-season perennials had not frozen back and still had color and nutritional value. The warmer weather encouraged the growth of winter forages.
East: Conditions varied across the region, with southern counties reporting rain and continued wet conditions, while the northern counties had dry, sunny weather. Temperature highs were reported in the 70s at the beginning of the week, then dropping to the 30s. The higher temperatures helped winter forages catch up and somewhat dried out waterlogged roots. Only Harrison County reported subsoil moisture as short. Other counties in the region reported adequate or surplus soil moisture. Topsoil moisture was reported as adequate or surplus in all counties except Harrison, which reported it as short. Ponds and creeks remained full in Cherokee County. Anderson County truck farmers and row crop producers were prevented from working in the fields due to the wet conditions. Fruit trees and bare-root trees were being planted and pruned. Cattle prices were firm, with some classes higher. Hay and supplements were still being fed to cattle. Most cattle were in good condition. Spring calving was in progress. Weaning and selling of market-ready calves and cull cows continued. Goat prices remained good, with demand strong. Several counties reported feral hog activity.
Far West: Warm weather made suitable conditions for crops and livestock. The growth of winter weeds gave cattle something to graze. Supplemental feeding continued. Topsoil moisture was adequate,while subsoil moisture was described as short to adequate. Pasture and rangeland were mostly in fair condition. Pecans were 100 percent harvested. Winter wheat was 90 to 100 percent emerged, but mostly in poor condition.
North: Early in the week, the region had spring-like weather, with daytime temperatures in the 70s. A cool front passed through late Feb. 11, bringing as much as 1.5 inches of rain to some counties, while others remained dry. Wheat, oats and winter-annual pastures needed sunshine, dryer weather and more warm weather. Many farmers were able to get into fields to fertilize small grains and pastures. Most wheat was a little behind, but with milder weather and fertilization was expected to catch up. Hay supplies were still good, and ponds were in good shape too. Livestock were in good condition. Supplemental feeding continued. Wild hog damage to fields and pastures was ongoing.
Panhandle: Temperatures were once again up and down throughout the week, which made for sick livestock, particularly calves. Farmers were planning for plantings and cleaning up fields. They were focused on the Farm Bill planting decisions deadline of Feb 27. Dallam and Hartley counties got a little moisture in the form of snow and cold rain. Wheat has responded to the days when weather was warmer. Producers grazing cattle on wheat and who want to produce a grain crop must remove cattle around March 1. Spring calving was just starting for some producers. Supplemental feeding continued. Some areas had the wettest January since 2010, making producers optimistic for the spring grazing potential of pastures and rangeland. In Deaf Smith County, the last of the cotton harvesting was finally almost finished, with only a few fields left. Producers began irrigating some area wheat fields with many of the dryland fields looking good after the recent snow and rain. Gains were good on stocker cattle due to the mild weather. The cattle market was up a little after three weeks of decline.
Rolling Plains: Temperatures ranged from the mid 70s to high 20s within a few days, which was stressful for livestock. Cattle remained in fair condition, with some producers grazing them on wheat. With the warmer weather, pastures and rangeland grasses were slowly beginning to come out of dormancy, but trees had yet to show any sign of change. Most peach trees were still in the tight-bud stage. After recent rains, topsoil moisture was in decent shape, but subsoil moisture was very spotty. Some areas were very dry while others were very wet. Farmers were beginning to prepare fields for planting cotton, but no one was in a hurry to start. Producers were closely watching the cotton prices and debating on how many acres to plant this year.
South: Weather conditions throughout the region were warmer with clear skies but no significant rains. Some areas did receive enough light precipitation to help rangeland and pastures. In the northern part of the region, topsoil moisture conditions were mostly adequate, while some counties reported very low subsoil moisture. Oats and wheat were in good condition with 100 percent of the crop already emerged. In Frio County, wheat was already beginning to head. Producers were preparing fields for planting. Pastures were in fairly good condition throughout the area, and cattle body condition scores remained fair. In the eastern part of the region, warmer weather and dry field conditions allowed row crop farmers to catch up on fieldwork, apply fertilizer and spray for weeds. In Jim Wells County, soil moisture was 100 percent adequate, 40 to 50 percent adequate in Duval County, 50 percent adequate in Jim Hogg County and 100 per cent adequate in Kleberg and Kenedy counties. Range and pastures remained in good condition. In the western part of the region, soil moisture conditions were 80 to 100 percent adequate in Dimmit, Webb, and Zavala counties, and 75 to 80 percent short in Zapata County. Cool but dry conditions allowed producers to actively harvest both fresh market and processing spinach. Dryland wheat and oats were progressing well. Cabbage, carrots and onions were also good under ideal growing conditions. Livestock producers were able to substantially reduce supplemental feeding as rangeland and pastures improved. Webb County ranchers were slowly but surely rebuilding herds and retaining heifers for breeding. In the southern part of the region, conditions remained mild with no rainfall. Soil moisture was 100 percent adequate in Cameron and Hidalgo counties, and 60 to 80 percent short in Starr County. Willacy County had 50 percent adequate subsoil and 65 percent surplus topsoil moisture, which limit ed fieldwork. The harvesting of sugarcane, citrus and vegetables continued. Growers were planting grain sorghum, corn and sunflowers. In Willacy County, field conditions remained wet thus limiting planting activities.
South Plains: The region had cool and dry weather with a couple of days that were warm enough to allow fieldwork. Activities included shredding of cotton stalks, chiseling and some deep breaking of hardpan soils. Wheat was in fair to good condition and greened up from recent moisture and warmer weather. Soil moisture was short to adequate. Pastures and rangeland were in fair to good condition, with rains benefiting cool-season grass growth and providing some subsoil moisture for warm-season grasses. Cattle were mostly in good condition.
Southeast: Soil moisture varied widely, but was mostly in the adequate to surplus range. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied widely too, from good to excellent, with fair being the most common rating. Hardin County was the exception, reporting 100 percent poor rangeland and pasture conditions. Warmer weather was needed to support grass growth. The available moisture favored cool-season forage growth. Rain was forecast for the next week, and winter-pasture producers were busy applying nitrogen fertilizer. Some producers were applying phosphorus and potassium as well. Chicken litter was also being applied to hay fields. In Fort Bend County, producers were spraying weeds in preparation for planting. Livestock were in fair to good condition.
Southwest: Warm weather and moisture stimulated the growth of fruit trees and pasture grasses. Peaches received more than enough chilling hours this year, and high-tunnel peaches were already starting to bloom. The condition of wheat was improving. Farmers were preparing for planting while it was dry enough to get into fields. Rangeland and livestock were mostly in fair condition.
West Central: Temperatures were unseasonably warm, with mild days and cool nights. Warm sunny days improved small grains, enhancing growth and resulting in better grazing. Field activities increased. Growers were starting to prepare beds for spring planting and top dressing nitrogen on wheat. Rangeland and pastures were holding up very well for this time of year. Cool-season grasses and weeds were abundant in pastures and will most likely require some management as spring approaches. Rangeland conditions were also improving due to good soil moisture and warm weather. Livestock remained in fair to good condition. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued. All areas needed heavy rains to replenish low stock tanks and ponds. Cattle prices were still holding steady after a slight decline the previous week. A forecasted cold front may cause some bud drop of fruit and nut trees.