Nov. 14 Ogallala Commons Playa Field Day at Crosbyton

Approximately 20 persons – including landowners, Master Naturalists, and teachers – attended the Nov. 14 Crosby County Playa Basin Field Day in Crosbyton.

 The meeting featured an overview of playa basins in the Southern High Plains region, a presentation about waterfowl and fall migration patterns, and an update on the Playa Basin Restoration Program sponsored by the Texas Playa Conservation Initiative.

 “Playa basins are the most important place for birds on the Southern Great Plains,” said Dr. Darryl Birkenfeld of Nazareth, executive director of Ogallala Commons. “Each year, thousands of birds make their way along the Central Flyway, where they eat and rest at up to 60,000-80,000 playa basins along the route.”

 Birkenfeld said Ogallala Commons sponsors playa field days for adults and playa festivals for students to increase knowledge of the importance of playa basins and their restoration.

 Texas Master Naturalist Jim Steiert of Hereford agrees.

 “Playa basins are truly the ‘Rodney Dangerfield’ of the plant world. They do not get the respect they deserve. The Central Flyway is the second most important migration and wintering area for waterfowl and other migratory birds.  There is increasing evidence that playa basins in this area are the most valuable habitat for these birds,” he said.

 Steiert said migratory birds are attracted to “habitats created by plant communities responding to a changing environment.” In essence, the birds travel to those areas with abundant food and water.  He noted that migrating Sandhill cranes appeared in the Hereford area on October 3 – about two weeks earlier than normal.

 “Playas are the keystone of the Great Plains ecosystem. They are the stone that holds it all together. It is sort of like playing Jenga.  Everything is fine until you remove the piece that causes the tower to fall,” Steiert said.

 He encouraged the group to take care of playas on their property and near their communities.

 “Playas are the sources of recharge for groundwater stored in the Ogallala Aquifer. It is important to have grass barriers around the playas to remove silt, which improves the quality of the water that may ultimately make its way back into the aquifer,” Steiert said.

 Another way to improve the playas is through a voluntary restoration program, sponsored by the Texas Playa Conservation Initiative.

 “There are about 23,037 playa basins in Texas.  Of these, 4,080 are functional, 5,631 are functional and at risk in the next 20-30 years, and 13,326 are non-functional.  A loss of buffer area, land development, and modification of the basins have all taken their toll on playas,” said Don Kahl with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

 He told the group about the Texas Playa Conservation Initiative (TPCI), which is a partner-driven effort to restore playas in the Texas Panhandle.

 Years ago, it was a common practice to dig pits or trenches into the bottom of playa basins.  Irrigation tailwater and/or rainfall collected in these pits.  Lake pumps transported the water to the head of the field for reuse.

 “Many of these pits and trenches are no longer needed and can be easily restored. Once the pit is backfilled, rainwater and runoff can again reach the entire playa basin, including the large cracks in the dry playa floor. This is essential for recharge to occur. It also allows plants and insects to flourish—which provides food for migrating birds and other wildlife,” he said.

 Kahl said landowners participating in the program incur no costs associated with restoring a playa.

 “We coordinate and conduct all the work.  To compensate for any inconvenience, there is an $80 per playa basin acre payment upon completion of the restoration,” he said.

 Playa restoration efforts are currently concentrated in Armstrong, Castro, Crosby, Floyd, Hale, Hockley, Lubbock, Lynn, and Swisher Counties. 

 The program has resulted in 489 playa basin acres restored to date.

 In addition to restoration efforts, Kahl said other conservation practices could be included in the program.

“This could include installing grass buffers around farmed playas, silt removal, and incentivizing leaving grass buffers around playas in expired Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land,” he said.

 A tour of a restored playa, located three miles east of Cone, TX, concluded the Field Day.

 Precinct One Director Dan Seale and Information/Education Supervisor Carmon McCain represented HPWD at the field day.

 Additional information is available at ogallalacommons.org and PlayasWorkForTexans.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WSI 2018: Thinking about water & climate

More than 800 industry professionals attended the 11th annual WaterSmart Innovations (WSI) Conference and Exposition held October 3-5. The conference has drawn participants from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 42 countries since it began in 2008.

In his keynote address, Jerry Yudelson, P.E. discussed how water industry professionals must adapt their planning to account for future climate conditions.

Dubbed the "Godfather of Green" by Wired Magazine, he is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Fellow.  Yudelson is the author of 14 books on green building, green homes, green marketing, water conservation, and sustainable development. 

"How can water professionals begin to plan for climate-related risks, especially with so much uncertainty about timing, magnitude, frequency, and duration?" he said.

He noted that changing weather conditions could likely lead to extreme events, resulting in a far greater cost to water systems and people.  "Extreme weather, such as drought, flooding, heat, and wind, always have a human face. We must be resilient," Yudelson said. 

Yudelson said extreme weather events often probe a city’s weaknesses much as standing water finds cracks in the foundation of a house. “Are we considering extreme weather events, sea level rises, and how they may impact our own vulnerabilities? Think about it — 40 percent of the United States population lives in counties directly on a shoreline.”

The California Coastal Commission advised its coastal cities to prepare for 10 feet of sea level rise by 2100. However, the Port of San Diego responded that “…planning for such events without a greater degree of certainty is not appropriate.”

He noted that changing weather conditions could include more intense, longer-lasting storms with heavier rainfall. This could result in a greater cost for storm remediation.

As an example, Yudelson shared statistics provided by Kevin Trenberth with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.  “Hurricane Florence (2018) is estimated to cost $45 billion, which is 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of South Carolina. Hurricane Maria (2017) could cost $90 billion, or 85 percent of Puerto Rico’s GDP. Hurricane Katrina (2005) could cost $130 billion, or 65 percent of Louisiana’s GDP,” Yudelson said.

It is time for water professionals to "box outside the think."  Yudelson asked the group to imagine new possibilities by soliciting advice from unlikely sources that may see water planning in a different way.

"If you have 100 engineers working on an aerospace challenge, then the 101st engineer is not going to make that much difference. However, if you add a biologist, a nanotechnologist, or a musician, maybe you will see something fundamentally different. This will help envision and create alternative systems that could respond better to weather events," Yudelson said.

He asked conference attendees to continue their water conservation and water efficiency efforts. "Conservation oriented water rate structures, use of new technologies, new regulations, and public education efforts are all ways to stretch existing water supplies. You can’t cover all future situations—but it is important to imagine various scenarios for extreme events," he said. 

This can include new standards for land use and/or landscaping; use of stormwater, wastewater, and graywater; and developing new standards for “near net-zero” water use in new buildings and major renovations.

“Here’s a scenario for you — Imagine that you are attending the WaterSmart Conference opening session in this ballroom five to ten years from now. Suddenly, the sensors in your Apple Watch detect carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the room to be higher than allowed standards. Real time connectivity allows us to find the problem, diagnose it, and quickly remedy it. Just imagine how that type of technology could have impacted the Flint, Michigan water crisis,” he said.

WaterSmart Innovations featured more than 100 technical sessions and 30 poster presentations. Be sure to visit https://watersmartinnovations.com/sessions.php to view or download the PowerPoint presentations.

Highlights from these talks will be included in future issues of The Cross Section.

Texas experiences record-setting wet fall

From AgriLife Today

Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon reported statewide temperatures from May through August were tied for the second hottest on record, and summer 2018 was also drier, with statewide precipitation levels through August running 3 inches below average, ranking the year to date as the 27th driest on record. 

But conditions changed drastically beginning in September, which he said was the fourth wettest month statewide on record with 6.77 inches of rainfall on average. October was even wetter with over 7 inches of rain on average, which made it the second wettest month on record.

“Already at the end of October Texas has received more rainfall than it receives on average in an entire year,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

The high rainfall amounts in September and October made it easily the wettest two-month period on record, he said.

“It’s fairly common to follow droughts with heavy rainfall,” he said. “That happened in 1957 and 2015 where you had extended drought followed by rain and flooding.”

Of the 10 climatic regions around the state, Nielsen-Gammon said four had stations that recorded more than 30 inches of rain over the past 60 days.

Some notable observations include, 45.03 inches near Galveston – the highest reported total; 32.65 inches in Madisonville; 33.65 in Bonham; 31.65 inches near Rock Springs; 24.24 in Haskell; 22.38 in San Antonio; 18.27 in Harlingen; and 15.3 inches in Tahoka.

One important exception was Amarillo, which received 4.64 inches and remained one of the drought areas in the state along with parts of the Trans Pecos region, Nielsen-Gammon said.

“The last 60 days has pretty much wiped out all of the color from the drought monitor map for most of the state,” he said.

Nielsen-Gammon said the state didn’t catch any rain from Atlantic tropical storms but caught significant rains from Pacific tropical storms that made their way through Mexico and into Texas.

This year was the most active East Pacific hurricane season ever, which typically allows for significant rainfall from thunderstorms in Texas.

Texas also experienced a few cold fronts that stalled out across the state bringing repeated rain activity day after day, he said.