— By LARRY M. JONES
One of the most defining aspects of my formative years during the 1940s and ‘50s, was the epic Drought of the Fifties. Lives were disrupted and the Texas economy was dealt a devastating blow. I would estimate that over half of the farmers in Parker County lost everything and were forced to move to the city in order to find work and feed their families.
As a youngster, I was terribly distraught to watch my parents agonize over this horrible time. I worried that they, too, would be so financially ruined that they would lose the farm and the very roof that covered our heads. In all probability, the only thing that prevented this from happening was the fact that they scrimped, saved and pulled back on all expenditures. Their hard work and wise use of available resources allowed us to survive until the rains once again fell on the parched Texas land. It wasn’t until 1957 that the bank of clouds on the western horizon was more likely to be a rainstorm rather than a sandstorm.
One positive result from the drought of the ‘50s was to make government more aware of water’s criticality. Although Texas had a population of less than a third of what we have today, it became clear that water resources were already inadequate. Locally, one of the greatest impacts caused by the drought was the construction of Lake Weatherford. During former Speaker Jim Wright’s tenure as mayor of Weatherford, these wheels were set in motion and the lake was finished in March of 1957, just in time for the drought-breaking rains.
Another memorable and enduring piece of fallout of this epic drought was the creation of the Texas Water Development Board in 1957 to collect data and formulate plans to provide water resources for future as well as current Texans. I personally became quite familiar with the scope of their work when I served as a director for the recently created Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District.
As a result of a prolonged drought condition over much of Texas for the past decade, along with a recent announcement from the U.S. Geological Survey in regard to declining aquifers, the Texas Legislature came up with what I consider knee-jerk lip service to Texas’ water problems. They passed a bill allowing voters to decide in November whether to create a state water development bank. Funded by taking $2 billion from the state rainy day fund, one of its primary purposes would be to build new reservoirs. Will we fill them with virtual water? I feel this is merely political posturing, fiscal sleight of hand, and misplaced priority.
For over a half a century we have grossly abused our aquifers, specifically the Ogallala in West Texas. We have reduced the flow of our rivers to a trickle due to overuse, and yet, despite decades of planning and oversight by the TWDB, we still have water shortages as bad as the 1950s because of waste and over population.
To overcome Texas’ water woes, we’re going to have to try something a bit more innovative than dam building. Political posturing won’t keep the West Texas sandstorms at bay.
Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.