Living With Drought

[imgbelt img=2300-500144_162-1398158-2.jpeg]People in the Southwest are learning to live with drought. Recently, there was a “drought seminar” in Johnson City, Texas.


A message from the Rural Assembly

“The effect cascades,” he described, “as birds and animals lose their homes and food sources, they go into survival mode, reproducing less, and the young they do produce die in greater numbers, leaving a population dip that lasts as long as this generation lives.”

The three speakers on plants agreed the solution is simple — all it takes is water — as long as you can afford to buy it from the city, or as long as your well produces enough.

A better solution for gardens, though, is to plan to use much less water than normal and still get good fruits and vegetables, said Bill Luedecke, a well-known Burnet County gardening expert. “Put good soil underneath and good mulch on top, then add water judiciously in between to provide the plants what they need without waste.”

Todd Swift, Blanco County Agri-Life extension agent, said the small gardens actually are more water-efficient than big commercial farms, which use 50% more water for the same production. One of his tips is planting earlier than most people would, even if it means germinating plants indoors while the weather still is too cool to sprout. That allows the plants to grow, bloom and produce in the spring and early summer, before the hottest weather hits.

As for trees, “things may not be as bad as they appear,” said arborist Robert Edmonson, of the Texas Forest Service. “Many of the trees which turned brown and dropped their leaves at the end of the summer may just be protecting themselves with early dormancy, and will come back in the spring if they get water. Don’t count a mature tree out until you give it another growing season to green up again.”

A speaker many were waiting to hear was Jerry Williams, a specialist in wildfires in the areas where development meets the country, and where humans are the chief cause of their own fire danger. He described the fire season just — he hopes — ended as the worst in Texas history, with almost four million acres blackened, nearly 3,000 homes burned and 47,000 other buildings destroyed. Labor Day weekend, when Bastrop’s fires dominated the news, firefighters battled 782 other fires across Texas.

Where do wildfires fires come from? Mostly from humans, Williams said, triggering them accidentally, either directly or indirectly.

And what feeds them? Also humans, by not removing potential fuel before fire season, and by putting flammable materials in the way of fire, sometimes by bringing fire fuel right up against their homes, which are snuggled into the combustible forest.

“Fire safety doesn’t mean you have to live in a barren open space,” explained WIlliams, “it just means you need to take common-sense precautions about where you put your house, what you build it from, and how you take care of your environment to keep fire at a safe distance.”

Oh, and all that cedar that died in the summer drought? Good news and bad news there. Eventually, the cedar die-off will mean more water in the soil and rivers, and more grass and wildflowers on the surface.

But until then, as long as the cedars stand dead and dry, they are a huge fire hazard just waiting for a spark to explode in flame as if they had been soaked in gasoline.

George Barnette chairs the Blanco County Disaster Response Group, Blanco, Texas.


A message from the Rural Assembly