Drought threatens fish, wildlife, parks in Texas
A s experts nervously watch mounting threats of record drought in Texas, several truths are evident: (1) when water won’t fall from the sky, what comes out of the ground is critical, (2) there are important things people can do to prepare to weather a drought, but when you’re in one the only quick fix is rain and (3) there are still parks, lakes and spring-fed rivers with water where folks can beat the dry heat.
Last month was the hottest June ever recorded in Texas.
At this point, the current drought is the third worst on record based on the Palmer Drought Index, behind the droughts of 1916-1918 and 1951-1957.
The Texas drought map is a sea of red, with almost the entire state in extreme to exceptional drought, except for about 10 counties in northeast Texas.
What’s worse, little relief is predicted, and some forecasts show a strengthening of La Niña weather conditions this fall, which could prolong the drought.
“What’s on my mind is with continued lack of rainfall we could see impacts on fish and wildlife that could be apparent for years to come,” said Cindy Loeffler, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s top water resource expert.
“That’s based on reports from our wildlife biologists on poor recruitment of young of the year, very poor available food such as mast for deer and bugs for birds to eat, not to mention lack of drinking water.
“With fish, when you see these historically low levels of stream flows, we begin to see fish kills from low dissolved oxygen and high temperature.”
Across the state, many springs and rivers are trickling and Texas lake levels are way down.
In the west, some reservoirs have gone practically bone-dry, including O.C Fisher near San Angelo.
“If this goes on much longer we’re going to have some dry springs, without a doubt,” said Chad Norris, a TPWD water resource scientist who’s spent the last few years studying the status of springs across the state, including many on private ranches.
“One big problem is impacts to endemic and rare species, many of which are isolated to these small springs and are found nowhere else. We might not lose an entire species, but we could lose local populations that could push them toward extinction.”
Norris said people underestimate the importance of small springs. Even in drought-dried creeks, they sustain isolated pools of water, and while that’s not ideal habitat, if you’re an aquatic species or even a terrestrial mammal looking for water, it’s critical.
“Those spring-fed pools may be what will keep our common wildlife species common. The bass, sunfish and minnows, the fish communities in our streams, they need somewhere to hold on.
Spring flows at San Marcos and Comal Springs, two of the largest springs in the Southwestern U.S., are declining due to drought and groundwater withdrawal from the Edwards Aquifer.
“Water conservation has got to be a bigger part of the answer for Texas,” Loeffler said.