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Published on June 25, 2024
South Texas Faces Water Woes as Tropical Storm Alberto Falls Short on Rain PromisesSource: Unsplash/ Luka Vovk

As South Texas reels from the underwhelming touch of Tropical Storm Alberto, the anticipation for a substantial downpour has once again evaporated into thin air. The Texas Tribune reports that the much-anticipated storm, which was projected to pump up to eight inches of rain into the parched Rio Grande Valley, delivered a mere fraction of that. For a region on tenterhooks, fearing floods while craving moisture, the shortfall is a mixed bag—easing flood concerns but failing to quench the thirsty reservoirs that are essential for agriculture and residential use.

Despite the hullabaloo that surrounded Alberto's arrival, with city officials distributing sandbags and Gov. Greg Abbott declaring a state of disaster, the Amistad International and Falcon International reservoirs continue to report water levels at or near record lows. According to the Tribune, the Falcon reservoir saw a slight increase to around 11% capacity, scarcely an improvement from its dire 8.8% nadir in late May. The Amistad is faring no better, languishing at an alarming 19% as of this week—compounded by the concern over Mexico's inability to fulfill its water delivery obligations under the 1944 treaty due to its own drought conditions.

Indeed, the agricultural sector is staring down the barrel of an all-too-dry reality, with Texas already bidding adieu to its last sugar mill and pruning its citrus acres. Brian Jones, a local farmer and Texas Farm Bureau state director told The Texas Tribune, "It doesn't alleviate any of our water woes by any means. But it does put some moisture back into the soil." This modest infusion, while a reprieve for the soil and crops that remain, is hardly enough to stave off the broader implications of a water shortage that has already seen about 6,000 acres of citrus bulldozed and would-be orchards languishing in greenhouses.

It's not only the farmers that are feeling the heat. Municipalities, which generally piggyback on irrigation water for deliveries, are now grappling with the ineffectiveness of "push water" tactics, sometimes squandering two acre-feet of water just to deliver one. Sonny Hinojosa, a water advocate and former general manager for Hidalgo County Irrigation District No. 2, captured the inefficiency of the current situation, remarking to The Tribune, "You're losing water just trying to push that small amount of municipal water to their delivery point." This scenario lays bare a stark future where not just crops, but taps too, could run dry.

In the broader scheme of things, the faint hope for remedy lies with an active hurricane season, projected to wield 17 to 25 named storms. But as Barry Goldsmith, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service in Brownsville told The Texas Tribune, "That would not happen right now if another Alex came in," referencing the Hurricane Alex of 2010 which had brought the salvation of rain. Whether or not a similar event will steer towards South Texas and deliver the much-needed deluge remains as uncertain as the whims of the weather itself.