Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

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November 27, 2012

Burn ban ordered as drought deepens

Area has seen little rainfall last two months and forecast not looking favorable for more soon

By LIBBY CLUETT

PALO PINTO – As drought conditions worsen locally, as in many parts of the state, Palo Pinto County Commissioners issued a burn ban Monday, which means citizens can no longer burn large piles of brush.

Fire Marshal and Emergency Management Coordinator Buddy Harwell said there have not been many fires and drought conditions didn’t rise as he expected, but conditions are dry and weather forecasters are predicting another dry winter. He said at a recent meeting volunteer fire department chiefs supported a first-level burn ban and he did, too.

Harwell said this ban on outdoor burning would keep citizens from burning large brush piles and household trash, which could ignite a wildland fire. The current order does not restrict outdoor welding activities.

Over the weekend a truck axle or wheel sparked a 1-acre fire between Gordon and Santo, according to Lone Camp Volunteer Fire Chief Charlie Sims. Harwell said another small fire ignited last week in the Santo area.

A U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook map – showing the drought tendency from Nov. 15 through Feb. 28 – has most of Texas, including this region, as well as 10 additional states north and west of Texas and portions of other states expected for “drought to persist or intensify” during the period.

On Nov. 20, the U.S. Drought Monitor map indicated the northwestern portion of Palo Pinto County is in a moderate drought, while the remainder of the county, as well as Parker County, are in a severe drought.

A map issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that the North Central Texas Region would need an additional 6-9 inches of additional rainfall to bring the area’s moisture content closer to what it should be.

Along the Brazos River, from Possum Kingdom Lake southward, the drought has taken its toll on water availability, too.

In mid November, the Brazos River Authority declared a Stage 1 Drought Watch for customers accessing water from Possum Kingdom, Granbury, Whitney, Proctor and Georgetown lakes. It stated that those reservoirs had been below the Stage 1 Drought Watch trigger storage capacity since early September.

“The drought watch is the result of prolonged dry weather conditions in the upper portions of the Brazos basin and is a response to new drought trigger levels established by the BRA’s updated Drought Contingency Plan approved by the BRA Board of Directors on October 29,” the BRA announced in a press release. Last week, in response to a priority call by Dow Chemical Company, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality initiated a restriction on junior water-rights holders, stating that rights will be administered on a priority basis in the Brazos River Basin.

The last time they made such a priority call was in April 2011 according to Lisa Wheeler, TCEQ spokesperson. Some may recall that this came as reservoirs dropped and the state experienced record heat and drought conditions.

The TCEQ informed junior water rights holders – those with a priority date of 1942 or later – and temporary water-right permits in the Brazos River Basin below Possum Kingdom Lake that their right to divert water is immediately suspended.

“In order to protect public health and welfare, water rights with municipal uses, domestic uses, or for power generation have not been suspended at this time,” The TCEQ stated in a press release. “Land owners with property adjacent to the Brazos River may also continue to divert water for domestic and livestock use as part of their inherent riparian rights.”

With the TCEQ’s actions, the most senior water rights are served first during times of drought, with domestic and livestock uses superior to any appropriated rights. Water rights are suspended or curtailed by priority date, with the most recently issued – or “junior” – priority users suspended before senior water rights in the area.

The TCEQ has asked that all Brazos River Basin water-right holders continue to take appropriate steps to conserve water, implement their drought contingency plans, and prepare for additional suspensions or curtailments should drought conditions persist.

“Water is a precious resource – all Texans are encouraged to conserve, especially during times of drought,” added the TCEQ release.

For more Texas drought information, visit www.tceq.texas.gov/response/drought.

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