While the new report spotlights the current drought, of greater significance is the threat of what the report terms a “megadrought,” an extremely dry and prolonged disaster that could last for years instead of months.

According to the report, severe drought is nothing new in Texas. Cycles of drought have plagued the region for millennia, devastating vegetation and wildlife and making survival difficult for human inhabitants as well.

In the 12th century, for instance, much of the Southwest suffered through a decades-long drought, and another in the second century lasted for nearly 50 years. The report says these megadroughts appear to be infrequent but recurring down through history.

A recent chart released by the Texas Water Resources Institute documents regular cycles of severe drought dating back to 1750. The worse periods of extended drought occurred in the middle of both the 19th and 20th centuries. In each case, drought conditions prevailed for a number of consecutive years. If this were to happen again and Texas were to receive half of its “normal” average annual rainfall for two decades, for example, experts say our semi-tropical regions would become arid, while our semi-arid regions would become desert.

While the current drought has taken its toll on agriculture, recent rains give hope that the current drought may be in decline. But in spite of the latest forecast models that suggest late spring and summer may see the return of more normal rainfall across most of the Southwest, Comb’s report that increased demand for water and the growing need for new water resources gives rise to fear that the day is coming when water availability will become our number one social and economic problem.

The report points to Texas’ rapidly growing urban areas and their increased demand for water. The largest anticipated increases in demand will be for municipal water systems, manufacturing plants and power generators. Add to that declining groundwater supplies, which are expected to fall by 30 percent between 2010 and 2060, from 8 million acre-feet to 5.7 million acre-feet, and it becomes obvious water resources are the number one priority for a region experiencing the growth rate of Texas and the Southwest.

You can access the study online at http://www.window.state.tx.us/specialrpt/drought/pdf/96-1704-Drought.pdf