Misinterpreted Conservation Levels of Some Texas Reservoirs May Be the Reason the Experts Won’t Get Us Out of This Drought

I keep wondering if the drought is over for the longterm; there’s no question about the short term.  Despite all the wet, the U.S. Drought Monitor* has kept our area (Harris County) in the moderate and severe drought categories for some time.  This monitor, put out by a number of governmental agencies, uses many factors, such as climate changes, ground moisture, and lake levels, to indicate current and predict  future drought conditions.  With all this in mind, I have started to look at sites that indicate the levels and capacities of lakes across Texas since more rain has come.  (Check here if you too are interested.)

By looking at the charts, one can notice that lakes in the middle part of Texas are quite low, especially Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan.  However, many lakes in southeast Texas, which has had considerably more rain, are at 100% conservation level or nearing conservation capacity.  If the lakes are full and the ground is saturated, why are we still considered as being in a drought zone?

Possibly, some of those making these designations may only be looking at figures on lists and not looking at how some reservoirs function and the amount of water they generally contain.  For example, I live very near

The dike-like Addicks Dam extends for nearly 12 miles.

Addicks Reservoir, which is located west of Beltway 8 and north of I-10 in Harris County.  This reservoir, along with the corresponding Barker Reservoir on the south side of I-10, were built as flood protection for the city of Houston.  But to think of them as high dams with a lake behind would be a mistake.  The Addicks dam is more of a raised dike, L-shaped and running for about 12 miles.  Behind it are rough, wooded areas, some of which are swampy.  Highway 6 and Eldridge Parkway transverse this area from north to south, and Clay Road crosses it from east to west.  Bear Creek Park and Bear Creek Golf Club occupy some of the reservoir area.

An aerial view shows that behind the dam (highlighted in red) are wooded areas, not a water-filled reservoir.

Although there are some lower parts near the long dam that do hold water in the normally wet climate, the reservoir never reaches 214,150 acre-feet, which the Texas Water Development Board says is conservation capacity.  The reservoir’s record capacity was 60,190 acre-feet when nearly a foot of rain fell in the west Houston area.  After a 2009 storm, the exceptional amount of water in the reservoir covered park areas and roads as well as into homes in neighboring sub-divisions.  Even now, with the reservoir at only 3.5% of conservation capacity parts of Bear Creek part are inundated.

Despite the heavy rains that the gulf weather often brings, it would probably take some kind of Noah’s Ark storm to bring Addicks Reservoir up to conservation capacity.  If that were ever to happen, many of the developed areas surrounding it would probably flood too, because the terrain in is generally flat.  Therefore, if the climatologists who are determining the severity of this drought (now I would say so-called drought) are using the conservation capacity of Addicks Reservoir (and other similar reservoirs) as part of their calculations, they should look at them realistically, rather than just as a set of arbitrary numbers.

*A more optimistic view is shown by the Keetch-Byram Drought Index at Texas A&M’s Texas Weather Connection.

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Sunday in Suburbia: Strings for Peas and a Hot Plate of Grub To Get the Morning Goin’

String lines to give the tender pea plants something to grab onto to keep them up out of the wet soil.

As gray and cold as it is outside, one can almost believe the prediction Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction that spring won’t come for another six weeks.  Despite the mid-40s temperature, I put the coffee on and went outside to tend to a much-needed task in the garden–putting up some string lines for the peas to climb on.  This year is my first to try peas, and I’ve found that the stems of pea plants don’t have the strength that beans have.  Consequently, after the rains of the last several days, most of the plants were flattened onto–thankfully, not into–the ground.  Still in my red plaid flannel pants and a hooded sweatshirt (yeah, I don’t say “hoodie”), I rounded up some heavy string, my garden chickens, and a few mini-trellises and rigged up some support for the plants, which already have tendrils ready to grab on.

Back inside the coffee was ready.  To help warm up, I decided to make something substantial.  My weekend breakfasts come in one of two types; the quicker is usually coffee with frozen waffles with a slathering of peanut butter or jelly.  On a cool, lazy morning–like this one–I get out the 6-inch cast iron skillet.  Sometimes, I might make an omelet, but usually, I saute some chunks of veggies–onion, a small pepper from the garden, celery, or whatever I have.  Sometimes that might be it.  However, this morning I had real good stuff in the fridge:  about a third of a box of french fries from a fast food run and tasty Kansas smoked sausage that had come back with me at Christmas.  When all these were browned and hot, over the top came a couple of beaten eggs that got cooked slowly, but ended up crisp on the bottom and easily flipped over to cook just a bit more.   Once on the plate, I added a hefty spoonful of homemade chili sauce, given to me for Christmas.  (If I haven’t made your mouth water just a little, you ain’t alive.  This is my version of migas, a Mexican dish that uses crispy pieces of tortillas in the eggs.  I think mine with the leftoever french fries are pretty good too!)

Standing water from recent rains has caused some of Bear Creek Park's roads and picnic areas to be closed.

There’s still no sun out.  Since Christmas, it feels like we’re back in the groove of having more typical Houston weather.  I’ve started checking a site that shows the severity of the drought across Texas and the U.S.  Over the past week, my rain gauge has collected about 2.5 inches of rain, a lot of which came down early yesterday.  If the ditches, empty lot, and open fields are any indication, maybe the drought here in southeast Texas has been broken.  I hope that all the trees are getting a good, healthy drink.  Too many others didn’t make it through last year’s long hot summer and fall.

Bright, Sunshiny Days Warm Up the Weekend

A view from one of those "roads less traveled"in Bear Creek Park--backgrounded by an amazingly blue sky. Those green shrubs are the fan palms that grow in many of the woods of southeast Texas.

If by yesterday afternoon, Friday’s icy weather, along with the resulting bad roadways, was hardly worth remembering, today’s 71° was a complete turnaround.  The bright sunlighted warmed the air, and soft, fluffy clouds floated in an amazing blue sky.

Annie and I headed for the dog park on Highway 6 and found many other small dogs and owners were out to enjoy the day.  Usually the large dog side is busier, but today there were so many people and dogs on “our” side that I didn’t pay attention to how many were on the other side.

Going home, I took the “long way” through Bear Creek Park, and just like the dog park, there were many out enjoying the area, especially the golf course.  Bear Creek Park has a lot of picnic areas and the large golf course, but I really like the natural, forested part of the park, which is thick with live oak, pine, and other kinds of trees and brush. 

For those who don’t know, the live oak is one variety of oak tree that grows in abundance here.  In some older parts of Houston, the large live oaks have branches that grow out, paralleling the grown.  The one in my back yard has had its branches trimmed off the bottom part of the trunk as it has grown, but up higher there is a nice canopy of branches that help shade my house from summer of the summer heat.

Another tree that can be found in the wooded area of Bear Creek Park is a type of fan palm, which I believe is a native Texas palm.  On hikes through other parts of southeast Texas, I’ve seen this palm growing down under the tall pines, in both dry and wet terrain.

It’s good to get out after a cold spell and enjoy what nature has to offer.  Unfortunately, the potted plants that have been stashed in the garage still must endure some more days of darkness because the forecast is predicting lows in the lower 20s again mid-weeki.

View from the Suburbs: A Great Fall Weekend, Just To Put You in the Mood for Corn Tortilla Pie

 

Corn Tortilla Pie–It’s an easy comfort dish just right for a fall supper.

This has been one of those perfect fall weekends–nothing out of the ordinary, but every aspect enjoyable.

The mornings have been fresh, so Annie and I went to the dog park both mornings.  Yesterday, we both got shots–bordetella and flu.  (You can guess who got which.)  I took Annie to our new veterinary–Hearthstone Animal Clinic.  The staff is  very accommodating and friendly, and the clinic is bright and clean.  We were in and out so fast that Annie didn’t even seem to realize she had been to the vet.

I did a good bit of gardening both days.  I’m starting to amend my vegetable garden, so I went to Lowe’s and got more bags of cow manure.  (It’s already decomposed–no smell.)  The okra is about to play out, but even so, I canned another pint of them with a few of the peppers, which are just coming into their own here late in the fall.  I’ve already put up 28 pints of pickled okra;  I think they should be called artisanal pickles, because I’ve only canned a few pints at a time, the most was 4 pints when the okra was in its prime.  (“Put up”–I hope this usage isn’t losing its meaning.)  I’ve already tried a jar of the early ones.  Tasty!

After our jaunt to the dog park, the morning was still so refreshing that we stopped off at Bear Creek Park and took a walk by the animal pens.  The park is only a few miles down the road from my house, but since I moved here almost a year ago, I had only driven by.  Today before stopping, we drove through the expansive picnic areas, playing fields, and the golf course, and then through part that is just natural reserve full of pines and other trees.  The most exotic animals there are the rheas from South America, but there are also buffalo, deer, burros, emus, turkeys, pot-bellied pigs, goats, and a white reindeer.  Annie was none too interested in the animals, but one turkey seemed to be infatuated with her.

Now that it’s a bit cooler, I feel like using the oven more.  Here’s casserole dish of my own creation that I have made several times.  I like Mexican food, but I know that I can’t compete with the authentic dishes, so this recipe is easy to put together and satisfies that hankering for that Mexican taste.  I call it “Corn Tortilla Pie”.

Corn Tortilla Pie

1 1/2 pounds of ground turkey (or lean ground beef or pork)

1 large onion chopped

1 clove garlic finely minced or pressed

olive oil

1 tsp. chili powder

Salt and pepper

1 can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes

3/4 cup ketchup

2 cups frozen corn or 1 can chili-style beans

1 package (approximately 2 cups) Kraft Mexican Style Shredded Four Cheese

1 small can whole green chiles

22-24 corn tortillas

Heat a splash of olive oil in a skillet.  Add the chopped onions, cooking until translucent.  Add the garlic, and let cook a few seconds more.  Add the ground meat, and cook until just done.  If you use ground beef, drain off any grease.  Add the chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste.  Then add the stewed tomatoes and ketchup.  (You can use salsa or hot sauce to make this dish more picante.)  Turn up the heat and cook until the liquids start to bubble and thicken just a bit.

While the meat is cooking, turn on the oven to 325 degrees.

In a large flat baking dish (I use a 9 x 13 glass one), add a splash of olive oil.  Use one of the corn tortillas to spread the oil onto the bottom and sides of the dish.  Line the bottom and sides with approximately 8 tortillas so that the dish is covered.  Spread half of the mixture over the bottom tortillas.  Then cover the meat with all of the frozen corn (or beans).  Sprinkle about 3/4 cup of the shredded cheese on top.  Cover with another layer of tortillas (approximately 8).  Spread the remaining meat mixture on the tortillas.  Tear the green chiles in half and arrange them over the meat, and sprinkle with another 3/4 cup of the cheese.  Cover with the last 6 tortillas and sprinkle them with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes until the tortillas on top are crispy and the cheese is golden.

Take out of the oven and let rest for about 10 minutes.  Use a knife to cut through and a spatula to lift to the plate.  Serve with a salad, and you have supper!  This makes 8 good-sized portions.