Thursday, July 28, 2011

Heat Wave

I don't know how things are where you live, but conditions are really challenging in my part of West Texas right now.

The information below was published in the July 27th edition of the San Angelo Standard Times, our local newspaper. We subscribe to the paper, so I'm not sure this information is available in the online edition. Keep in mind that the National Weather Service began keeping records for the San Angelo area in 1907, over 100 years ago.
  • The average temperature for July (so far): 89.4
  • Previous hottest July on record: 1912, when the daily average temp was 87.6. So, we are currently almost 2 degrees above that.
  • Hottest month on record: June, 2011 (last month). Average temp was 88.6. We will probably break that record when July ends.
  • Previous longest streak of consecutive 100-degree days: 26 days from July 30 to August 24, 2010.
  • Current streak of consecutive 100-degree days: 25 days from July 2 to July 26, 2011. As I prepare to publish this on July 28, the temp exceeded 100 yesterday, so we have at least tied the record. Our local forecast for the next 5 days calls for temps in excess of 100. So, barring a miracle, a new record will be set.
  • Lowest rainfall for January 1 to July 31: 3.13 inches in 1956
  • Current rainfall for January 1 to July 31: 2.94 inches. Doesn't look good.
Altogether this year, we have had 62 days of 100 degree temperatures. This is a record. These are not the kinds of records we like to set.

So, we've had little rain and excessive heat. Since much of our water comes from area lakes, that is not good. Much water in the lakes is lost daily to evaporation. A bigger problem contributing to our lakes drying up, though, is the fact that we simply use too much water.

The United States is a nation of excesses. We've always been wasteful. If you doubt this, then consider what we did to the buffalo, mostly in the name of greed. Where else but in the United States would we build a metropolis in the middle of a desert and then use water there as if it were plentiful? I'm speaking of Las Vegas. And how much water do we spend watering golf courses, baseball fields, and football fields, among other things. And now the oil companies are using a water intensive method called fracking to retrieve oil. When we finish using something, we throw it away rather than recycle or re-use it.

San Angelo relies on several area lakes for fresh water. Because these are drying up, the city is developing an underground source called the Hickory Aquifer. Below are lake levels as recorded in the July 27th Standard Times.
  • Nasworthy, 83% capacity and 8,438 acre feet (small lake)
  • O.C. Fisher, 0% capacity and 0 acre feet (very large capacity lake fed by the North Concho River that is totally dry)
  • Twin Buttes, 10% capacity and 17,960 acre feet (potentially large lake fed by Middle Concho River, South Concho River, Dove Creek and Spring Creek)
  • E. V. Spence, 1% capacity and 3,522 acre feet
  • O. H. Ivie, 24% capacity and 130,404 acre feet (potentially large lake fed by Colorado River and Concho River)
Water restrictions are in place. We are allowed to water lawns once each week. I continually try to find ways to conserve water. When building the house, I added gutters that could be removed halfway down so that rain barrels could be set in place to harvest rainwater. However, I don't have the barrels in place yet, but that doesn't really matter since it hasn't rained lately. But collecting such water would allow me to water outdoor plants with harvested water. I plan to add these soon.

I also place a 5 gallon bucket under the drain for my AC system. I collect between 3 and 4 gallons a day right now, and I use that water to water trees and selected plants. 3 or 4 gallons doesn't sound like much, but it adds up to about 100 gallons each month.

Basically, it is rather silly for people like me to move to a semi-desert environment and then attempt to build a landscape that is designed for someplace that receives much more rain than we do. And if you look all over the west, you'll see this same practice in place. Green lawns just don't belong in the desert -- it isn't natural.

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