Farmers are reducing tillage and leaving residue on the soil surface to conserve moisture and save soil. Many have installed subsurface drip irrigation systems to increase efficiency. Others have renozzled pivots or changed planting patterns to stretch declining water resources.

The prolonged drought, now into its fourth year, has focused even more attention on West Texas water woes. Farmers report continued declines in underground water levels and an inability to pump enough water in-season to keep up with crop demand. High summer temperatures, often topping 100 degrees for days on end, coupled with daily winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour or greater, pull moisture from the dry soil almost as fast as it’s applied.

And water districts and other water stakeholders are looking for ways to stretch those declining resources as far as possible, including irrigation restrictions as well as limiting consumer uses such as washing cars, filling pools and watering lawns.

Conflicts emerge from those restrictions as consumers, municipalities, industry and farmers and ranchers all vie for available water supplies. In areas where water is managed by water districts, the process may be better organized but not without controversy.

Ronnie Hopper, a Petersburg, Texas, farmer and board member of the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District No 1, says the issue of declining water is real. “I’ve been on this farm for 67 years, and we have less water now than we did when I was a child.”

Water is a valuable resource but more valuable for some uses than for others, he notes. “The water that comes in and out of homes has a greater value than water that goes onto the land. When a lady in town turns on the tap and has no water she will expect someone to have the water back on by sundown.”

 

Decades ago when a city needed more water they went out into the country, drilled a well and pumped water into town. That’s less frequent today with a declining aquifer.