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And the drought moves on …

January 27th, 2013 · No Comments

This guest post comesLake from GreenMother

I worry about the ongoing drought every day. I know I am starting seeds, and talking about gardening, but there is always a part of me that is worrying about the long terms effects of the last two years extreme heat, and of course, what the Spring and Summer have in store for us this Summer. Sometimes focusing on the gardens and the bees, and the like, help me maintain the illusion of control and normalcy. But I know that these are really just illusions.

Australia has been in the news lately due to the extreme droughts in their part of the world. When I read the Aussie stories, I couldn’t help but see the parallels between there and Oklahoma and Texas droughts. The last two summers here locally, it was so hot that baby birds, like those flying foxes were dropping out of the trees, some adult birds dropped out of the skies, because the heat was so intense that they were overheated and dehydrated and weakened. I rescued a Mississippi Kite last year, and some Jays as well.

Follow me through the orange portal for first hand accounts, comparisons, videos, and photos.

Here is a recent story, Baby Flying Foxes fall out of the Sky in Australia due to extreme heat. They are being rescued and cared for by the hundreds, by concerned Aussies, so that perhaps the population won’t collapse. I saw this story and it made me think of what is going on here in Oklahoma and in the US in general.

Other videos that emerge in the search indicated that in 2008, Australia was already in a severe drought, the farmer interviewed on the BBC hasn’t been able to grow cotton in 6 years. I wonder if this situation continued until the present or if this man was able to grow even one crop between 2008 and 2013? To me Australia and this region I live in, in the U.S. are mirroring each other in terms of extreme drought.

Check out this story from Oklahoma about the Kite Rescue due to the Drought. This story was from 2011, there were even more rescued in 2012.

Here is a slide show from 2012 via the Washington Post depicting the effects of this drought across the nation.

Currently, Treehugger, covering the drought in Australia, show that the temperature extremes are so severe, that new colors had to be added to the temperature map, in order to show new highs in this hellish heat, afflicting the climate Down Under.

Here in Oklahoma, lakes that we depend on for city water sources are shrinking fast.
Lake Thunderbird, which is an artificial lake created in Cleveland County, in the 1960s, provides water to Norman, Midwest City, Del City and surrounding areas. You can drive across the Alameda Bridge and the North side of that bridge is so low, you can see the indentation of the Little River inside the lake. This lake has been very low for a long time, longer than this 2 year drought, and I guess what blows my mind is that within the last seven days, this is the first I have heard on the radio, that city officials were just now deciding that perhaps water conservation measures would have to be taken. Some towns rationed water during the summer, but then stopped when the weather cooled. But we did not get our fall or winter rains, so what I don’t understand is why they stopped?

…starting this month residents of Midwest City, Del City and Norman will need to reduce water consumption by 10% to keep Lake Thunderbird in service. Currently, the water level is 7 1/2 feet below the top of the water conservation pool and is expected to shrink to a record low next month. KSWO

Just now? Really?Because this is what we are looking at:

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Notice that winding river? Normally that would be a channel in the lake. This was taken at daybreak from a moving vehicle. I was able to return after the sun was fully up, and photograph the lake from a parking area. I made a little road trip, after hearing a personal description of just how low the water is, from a personal friend. I didn’t believe them at first. I knew the water was low, and had been low, but I had to see it to believe it. It was far worse than I imagined. These pictures of Lake Thunderbird were taken last week.

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You can still see that meandering river bed, just from a slightly different angle. Normally this area is a popular spot for people to fish from the shore, and on the other side of the bridge is a popular sandy area for swimming. As you can see, the dead trees and the lake bottom are completely visible.

I saw people exploring the mud, and I wondered if they understood that dangerous amoeba inhabit the muddy bottoms of lakes, ponds and rivers, and that no doubt with all the dead wildlife due to these extreme evaporation, that the water there was most likely a nasty, bacterial soup. In short, I wouldn’t venture near that area without serious rubber boots and gloves, to collect a damn thing.

If you look at the shrubs in the background, those are most likely willows or salt cedars. They grow very fast, and would not normally be in that area, but the lake has been so dry for so long, that these fast growing shrubs have been able to make quite a stand in the naked lake bed. Normally all of that is under water, and there would be boats on the surface with people fishing for catfish.

According to the Oklahoma Water Resources Bulletin, Lake Thunderdbird is at 69 to 60 percent capacity as of January 3, 2013. You can find a variety of measurements regarding lake levels, and the on-going drought at the Oklahoma Water Resources Bulletin. These measurements were taken from the pdf document labeled Jan 10, 2013.

These drying up lakes and ponds are a problem all over the place. The following two photos were taken late Summer 2012. It’s a pond I have visited, after accidentally discovering it, while being lost in the boondocks, this is Jones Pond. When I first found this pond it such a little jewel in a little town, off the beaten path with a park and a walking track and pavilions.

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This is a pond in Oklahoma County. Note the fishing tackle hanging from the tree branch. The carpet-looking stuff is algae which has smothered most of this body of water, killing most of the fish. I haven’t been back lately, though, unless water was piped in from somewhere else, I cannot imagine that much has improved. When the pond is refilled, if they want fish, they will probably have to stock that too.

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Some stubborn wetland birds persist here, probably catching little froglets and bugs. I saw little evidence of fish in the shallow depressions of water left over. The water level was so low, that the algae was exposed as well as snags normally found underwater, covered with long lost fishing hooks, bobbers, and twine. Surrounding farmer’s ponds for miles were dried up, rivers were very low and creek beds were often completely dry. It seemed that at this point, the egrets had moved in to get what food they could, considering their usual cow field-ponds were mostly gone, at least the ones I could see from the road at that time. I didn’t see red winged black birds this visit.

Normally this little pond is surrounded by tall reeds, and filled with lotus flowers. Red winged black birds would be calling from all around while an occasional egret fished silently in the water. Geese were there too, though I only saw one lonely domestic grey goose left and it appeared to be wounded.

Here is a picture from late spring 2010 of the same pond, note the abundance of lotus flowers. This was the day I got lost, and was completely delighted with this lovely pond filled with lotus. The flowers filled the edges of this pond, reeds sharing some pockets in between large swaths of lilies. During this time, dragonflies were everywhere, and fish were visible just below the surface of the water. Canada geese and grey geese swam around along with domestic ducks, fishing and begging for scraps from visitors.


This is the same pond in 2011: Almost all of the lotus flowers were gone. I am not sure if this happened because people wanted them gone, or if it was because of some other factor to do with the pond, like runoff that killed them, or rising temperatures, disease, etc.,? When I returned in 2011, all that was left were one or two lotus pads, but the reeds persisted and the red winged blackbirds were still there in droves with water fowl, fishes and dragonflies.


The water was so shallow last summer [2012] that heavier birds like geese would be unable to escape predators by swimming out to the center of the pond. So the others probably fell victim to racoons, or dogs or coyotes, or perhaps even a bobcat.

The crown in this depressing tableau was the stench. The odor of this pond was overpowering. It stank like a sewer with all the rotting biomass, and shallow, heated water and mud. No one visits it, and so more than likely the domestic goose there is probably starving. There was probably very little to eat.

Many farmer’s ponds are dry as a bone. Over and over, regardless of county or direction, I’d see stands of dead trees, roasting via the heat island effect, sometimes for lengths of hundreds of yards as well as patches of dead trees on the southern side of hills–a weird rusty pocket in swaths of green.

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I am loosing a hedgerow to this as well. When the soil is that hot and the solar radiation trapped in the pavement is being transmitted into the soil, the roots of plants, even large shrubs and trees are damaged, weakening them, and eventually killing them. I feel like a broken record, repeating all of this, but every year it gets worse and so I feel compelled to keep some kind of record.

It is especially disturbing when this local information is considered in context of growing global reports of recording breaking heat and drought.

More than 40,000 daily heat records have been broken around the country so far this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, compared with last year’s 25,000 daily records set by this date. CSMonitor July 3, 2012

Normally in the past, Oklahoma might be in a real bad drought, but it was isolated. A pocket of long term weather than would fluctuate and eventually correct itself. Even then the lake levels never got this low, that I had witnessed personally. I have visited a lot of the lakes all over the state at various times. I know it’s hard to believe, but even with water rationing during drought, I have never in my life seen them more than a couple feet down, as in maybe 1 or 2 feet. Not 7 feet, or 12 feet down. The lakes would stay high enough that you could still swim and wade in them, boat in them and fish.But then it seemed to me, that local officials were smart enough to ration water during droughts, even if the lakes were not that low. You rationed water because there was a drought, and not because the water had already gotten low. Rationing was a preventive measure and not “crisis management”. Perhaps I am mis-remembering, but I recall, water rationing way back in the day, and still visiting area lakes to fish and boat, and not seeing the bottoms.

But now, we are just now getting announcements that Water Rationing is taking place. That boggles my mind. You just want to shake someone and proclaim: “Good God man do you not know there is a drought? What are you waiting for!”

Common sense dictates that you ration water during a drought, before the lake bottoms out. So to me this seems to be more of the GOP sentiment that convinces itself that resources like water are unlimited, to be under the dominion of local holy rain makers who lack the sense to close their mouth, should it ever rain again.

Our population as a state is more dense now, and uses more of that water even under the best of circumstances. Water conservation simply makes sense given our increasing numbers, all competing for the same resources. I shudder to think about all the pretty golf lawns in the country living on well water.

There was a time, when you could visit Norman or Oklahoma City and it was more farmland than anything. We had a lot of industrial parks, train track, stockyards, a few big box stores, strategically placed gasoline/convenience stores and that was it. You blinked and you were 5 miles south of nowhere. It’s not like that anymore.

In addition the state needs to remind people that just because they are on a well, that they don’t get a free pass. That we all draw from the same aquifers, that are also depleted. Within the last couple of weeks, I literally saw sprinklers running in sub-zero weather, turning dried, dormant grass blades into pop-sickles at several places, and leaving icy puddles on main roads. It’s like no one gives a shit. And these were areas I know to be on OKC Water. That means the water is either from Thunderbird, Draper, Overholster or Hefner. And those lakes are not in good shape right now.

To give you an idea of what that means, Lake Hefner is at 59-50 percent capacity, and Lake Overholster that feeds it, is at below 50 percent capacity. Can we say, Face Palm? Once again this information may be verified at the link to the Oklahoma Water Resources Bulletin. When you open this PDF document, scroll down to the bottom and you can see the water levels for the states reservoirs.

There are 39 reservoirs listed, 9 of them are below 50 percent capacity, 4 are at 59-50 percent capacity, 8 are at 69-60 percent capacity, 7, are at 79-70 percent capacity, 5 are at 89-80 percent capacity, and 6 are at 90-100 percent capacity.

I guess what bothers me is that Oklahoma is acting like this is a normal drought. This is not an isolated regional issue. And it’s persisting. So it makes sense to me to ration water even when it’s not 110 degrees outside, it makes sense to ration water during the winter, and not anticipate our normal wet season, because it hasn’t happened.

As of January 7, 2013, East Central Oklahoma is at 66 percent of it’s normal rainfall average, Central Oklahoma is at 69 percent of that. That’s -15.56 inches and -11.71 inches respectively.  Meanwhile OKC has been trying to pipe water in from lake Sardis on what is called the Atoka Pipeline.

Sardis Lake has become a battleground, with local Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes suing state and Oklahoma City officials in federal court to block them from draining the lake. Some fear that if Oklahoma City wins the case, the precedent will open the floodgates for others, including Tarrant County in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which sued last year for access to the water. “They want all the water from the rivers and lakes — and that’s just Oklahoma City. We still have to contend with north Texas,” said Bob Vandiver, 63, a retired soldier working at the cafe. “I saw what Oklahoma City did to Lake Atoka — they sucked it dry. It’s now basically a mudhole.” LA Times 2011

Perhaps we should be practicing more stringent water conservation across the board–year round. Perhaps we should look at capturing more storm runoff. Perhaps it would be a good idea to stop letting local developers fill in local wetlands and seeps, so that our ground water can be recharged?This short sighted thinking isn’t just a problem in Oklahoma, it is indicative of a larger American problem. Why is it that our government[s] cannot comprehend that our population density requires us to be more careful with resources like water, whether or not there is a drought?

The court cases between the First Nations and the State of Oklahoma over water has gone federal. This is a good thing. I hope it forces the central part of the state to reconsider how to handle and preserve it’s own resources. If you want to see what Lake Atoka looks like after being used for OKC water, go here.

Additional coverage: OK Gazette.

PDF file of the Legal Filing of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations.

Look at this Durrant Daily Democrat from August 2012 showing that the Illinois River in North Eastern Oklahoma was very low. Given the issues with the Mississippi, it doesn’t surprise me. In fact that is also affecting our farmers, because we have ports to use, to ship goods to the Mississippi, and the water levels were low there too.

My advice to locals:
Consider grey water usage for gardens and lawns.

Consider rain barrels for gardens and lawns.

Perhaps Xeriscapingwould be a good idea.

Learn to utilize maximum minimums for watering your property. A lawn only needs about an inch of water a week in normal weather, 2 inches during heat and drought. One inch would fill a tuna can set under a sprinkler, even in the drought. After those temperatures reach 104, the grass and trees and shrubs aren’t going to take that water up anyhow because photosynthesis stops at 104 degrees. This how people drown their lawn in a drought. This happens because as the heat increases, the plants close their stomates in attempt to conserve their water, but this also inhibits the process of photosynthesis.

Plants MUST be allowed to dry out between waterings. Plants that are watered every day will die from root rot. In a normal season in the upper half of the country, a long, deep soaking once every week you don’t get an inch of rain is exactly what your lawn and garden needs and wants. In a severe heat wave and/or further South, you can water deeply twice a week. Always water in the early morning; never in the evening, never in the heat of the day, never for short periods of time, and at the base of the plants if possible. For lots more wise watering info, see this PREVIOUS QUESTION OF THE WEEK.You Bet your Garden.

So even though on water rationing, you can water every other day, you don’t have to. Twice a week is enough. That’s half of what is allowed. What a difference that would make in water conservation!Drought is severely affecting our agriculture, this video is from 2011-2012. At the end it asks if the drought will persist until 2012. It’s now 2013 and here we are, fighting over water amongst ourselves.

This next 2011 CBS video, states that thousands of trees in Louisiana planted after Hurricane Katrina are dying due to the drought. The coast of Louisiana abnormally dry as of Jan 15, 2013 It appears that the entire state is not affected, which is a good thing.

Here is a home video of Conroe TX 2011 and it’s decreasing water levels. I post this because I have visited this lake in Texas.

This another TX lake, Somerville, that is 9 ft low in 2011. This video is interesting because it of course shows the drop in water levels, but also talks about unusual wildlife behavior. Some rain gave these places a little relief, a quick search of the lakes + year will pull up more videos, but the water levels were still very low.

Lake Thunderbird in Oklahoma, was at least 7 feet low, and Lake Hefner is even lower in 2012.  Check out this video of Representative Tom Cole on legislation regarding Lake Thunderbird. Like OKC, there is a desire to pipe water into Lake Thunderbird. Apparently Mr Cole wants to buy water from OKC, via the Atoka reservoir mentioned in previous references. The same lake that residents complained had been drained to mud puddle status by OKC.  Note though that Mr Cole references that drought dropped the water levels in 2005-2006. Just as now, you could walk several feet into the lake bed because the water had dropped several feet, that’s because in 2005-2006, the lake levels were 9 feet below conservation levels.

The Norman Transcript address the drought issue perfectly:

With summer’s high temperatures gone and the excessive need for water to keep gardens and yards alive, the drought has fallen to the background of many people’s minds, but the lake level continues to drop. Dec 13, 2012

And this brings us back full circle:

“We’re still in a drought,” Norman Utilities Director Ken Komiske said. While rationing is not in play right now and the city’s wells are helping provide a share of the drinking water needed, residents are still encouraged to conserve water where possible. ibid.

Why not? Why wouldn’t water be rationed? The warmer weather and drought mean that people will be watering their yards and trees, to try and salvage whatever survived these past brutal summers. So why not ration? Why not remind people–private citizens and business owners daily, not to waste water?Below is raw footage of another central Oklahoma lake–Lake Hefner from November of 2012. It’s surreal, seeing all the sail boats resting on their keels on dry land under a dock.

The Mississippi is low: States are fighting over water, there as well. The people along the Missouri didn’t want to release water into the Mississippi River. Sound familiar? Talk about feast of famine, in 2011 the Mississippi flooded.

Some rain and the clearing of rock formations This month [in 2013] have allowed barges to keep going on the Mississippi, but the water levels are still low. We are quite literally squeaking by in many places.

Oklahoma and 13 other states have been declared disaster due to the extreme drought. According to the Tulsa World:

In 2012, estimated rainfall was 25.92 inches, which is 10.77 inches below normal and slightly above 2011’s rainfall of 25.23 inches. In 2011-2012, the combined rainfall of 51.15 inches was the fourth-lowest on record, dating back to 1895. Tulsa World Jan 10 2013

I found another story, discussing the impact on Oklahoma ranchers and farmers, going on how some ranchers fed cacti to their cattle. Not that it’s not nutritious but yikes! I hope they burned all the thorns off!When will our elected public servants on the hill, wake up and realize that this problem is bigger than the short term solutions being offered? You can only loan farmers and ranchers so much money, before it’s just not profitable for them or the government. What we need is clean energy now, water conservation now, we need a whole new paradigm.

While Germany is busy upping their already impressive solar output, we are still having to fight over whether or not global climate change is man-made–oh now it’s real, but it’s not man-made.

You can view the latest assessment of the Drought Monitor Report here. Oklahoma is primarily categorized as Extreme Drought, though there is a significant portion of the state that is labeled as Exceptional Drought.

What’s it like in your neck of the woods?

Additional thoughts …

I would like to encourage individual citizens to utilize their personal power, and get your cameras and camera phones out. You too can record climate change issues in your area. It would mean so much, because as more and more of us do this, it brings more attention to this topic. Your acts could turn this into dinner table conversation in homes where this topic might normally be avoided.

If you don’t want to write an independent piece, I invite you to post your pictures in the comment section here. Each of you have tremendous power to be a voice for this badly needed paradigm shift.
And …

It has occurred to me, that a typical GOP strategy with acquiring some kind of resource they want, whether it’s votes or water, is to let the situation get so dire, that emergency action has to be taken, and the normal rules suspended. I say this, because I have been trying to figure out why our state government would allow things to get so bad. Well this strategy makes sense given the staunch resistance by the First Nations with regards to water sources.  The State government in Oklahoma is very fond of using railroading as a legislative tool, and this would fit the pattern.

Let the water get so dangerously low, that emergency action has to be taken in such a manner that the normal rules of engagement can be ignored. Besides no water in town means local residents will throw a fit to water their begonias, and that would add to the mess and hostility.

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Tags: climate change · water