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.

Advertisements

Who’s To Blame for No Garden Photos? Whatever . . . . This Just May Be the Year of the Tomato

The little garden behind the garage, May 21, 2011.

It’s been awhile since I’ve added any garden photos, but this morning after spending a leisurely couple of hours dozing in bed, I got up, made some freshly ground coffee, and headed out to the little patch behind the garage.  Since I didn’t hear any rumblings of earthquakes to signal the end of the earth, I decided to do some picking and watering.  Watering has been absolutely necessary because there has been only one good rain in about the last four months here in northwest Harris County.  This year, I took an old hose, drilled some holes in it, and snaked it back and forth through the garden.  It works well either in shower mode or soaker mode.

The garden is far less organized this year.  Blame it on the lettuce, which when I planted it on January 1st, I got a bit lazy and went for the tossing method of planting, never expecting the abundance of these leafy, salad greens.  Thus, when I planted the beans, tomatoes, and peppers, I had to plant around the already thriving lettuce.  The onions that I planted at the same time as the lettuce are maintaining themselves, but they definitely are hidden under the foliage of the leafy beans and lettuce.

One of the many clusters of tomatoes that have set on.

Now I have a jungle in miniature.  Whether it’s the compost from last year, the added manure and other soil, or the fertilizers, including fish emulsion, that I’ve added, I now have tomato plants nearing the roofline of the garage.  I have just seven tomato plants, and one is a volunteer, but I’ve already picked about six tomatoes.  The tomatoes have certainly set on.  I call one of them “Mrs. Duggar”; it’s so loaded with fruit.  Last year, the garden’s big producer was okra, but it looks like this might be “The Year of the Tomato.”

In fact, I’m having difficulty getting okra planted.  I sprouted about 20 little plants in the bay window in my kitchen, but the process of getting them transferred and growing in the garden hasn’t been a very fortunate one.  Of the 12 that I actually got stuck in the ground, this morning I counted only five still alive.  After I pull out some more of the leggy lettuce, I’ll try just planting the seeds.

View from the Suburbs: Cranky Computers and the Great Outdoors

"Focus on Red and Green"--a unique variety of banana

We’ve been waiting for rain here in the Houston area for quite some time now.  In the same way, this blog has been waiting for a post.  I can’t blame it all on the slow death of my previous computer, but now I’m trying to get used to using Windows 7.

Too, more time in the recent weekends has been spent outdoors rather than inside in front of the TV or computer.  I love the colors and shade contrasts in the photo above taken this past Saturday at Mercer Arboretum, an oasis of green and colors just north of Houston in suburban Harris County.

Taking a Drive Out 529: Leaving Suburbia for the Open Road, a Bit of History, and Adam Lambert

F.M. 529 in Waller County, the cars are far and few between.

When I was a kid, sometimes on a Sunday afternoon, my dad would say,  “Do you want to go for a drive?”  We’d all pile into the car (the “we” that I recall most was just Dad, Mom, and me, because I was the youngest and the last one left at home) and head in some direction from the farm.  I suppose there were times when Dad had a particular destination in mind, but often we’d just take out and go wherever the car, and our whims, decided, driving for a couple of hours, looking at the  “sights”.  On some drives, we’d drop by a relative’s house or get an ice cream cone, but usually, we just drove, finally arriving back home.

I still like taking drives.  Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve often gotten into the car and just headed out without a clear destination, just enjoying the countryside and small towns I pass through.  Even though I now live in the suburbs, I still enjoy driving where the houses disappear and in their place are lines of trees, open pastures full of grass, and cool streams snaking through the countryside.

Since I’m on vacation right now, but still enthralled with having my own house and not wanting to take a real vacation, today I headed west on S.H. 529, the highway that is about a half mile from my home.

From Highway 290 to near where I live, F.M. 529 (F.M. = Farm to Market.  F.M. highways in Texas are usually shorter than S.H. roads (S.H. = State Highway) is 3 lanes each way, but as I drove west a few miles, it became 2 lanes each way, and once out of suburbia, it’s only a 2-lane road.

When you reach Stockdick School Road, you've definitely left suburbia. I took a detour down that road just because of the sort of provocative name. I didn't find any school, or anything else either.

In Bellville, you find one of the strangest courthouse-highway arrangements; Highway 36 divides to go on either side of the courthouse. There is a quaint shopping area on the courthouse square, but maneuvering this "roundabout" might prove difficult for a driver passing through this town for the first time.

I took some detours here and there, just to check out the “sights”, but finally ended up in Bellville, a cute county seat town about 30-35 miles from my house.  (Bellville is the county seat of Austin County, named for Stephen F. Austin and is steeped in Texas history.)

Despite the heat, the drive was just what I needed to get a taste of the country air and do some thinking.

The bridge passing over the Brazos River between Hockley and Bellville. This spot doesn't make the river look very impressive, but it does appear that this dead end river road is a favorite place for making out and drinking beer.

With the radio playing the whole drive, I  started  remembering about when driving between cities, the only stations that you could tune in were local AM stations playing country western music or the drone of fire and brimstone preaching.  As I was on a stretch of road between Hockley and Bellville (not on 529 then), Mix 96.5 started playing Adam Lambert’s new song, “If I Had You.”  I thought how much things have changed; even a gay kid stuck out in the middle of nowhere at least can listen to Adam Lambert and know somebody gay who is successful.  And that’s a good thing.

This little road trip today was also a good thing.  I didn’t or couldn’t stop every place that I wanted to take a photo; some places there just wasn’t anywhere to pull over and as it got after noontime, the heat made me just want to stay in with the cool AC.

Off of 529 east of Bellville, after driving through a tree-covered country lane, you'll find Pilgrims Rest Cemetery. Many of the stones in this cemetery, which is marked as a Texas historical site, have German and Czech names, some of the inscriptions in the original language. Down 529, there's a smaller, older-looking cemetery of the same name.

A stop to take a look at a historical marker proved to be the discovery of a Texan I had never heard about. Norris Wright Cuney was the son of a plantation owner and one of his slaves. He later became important in Republican politics in the latter part of the 19th Century.

You can read the inscription on this historical marker here.  This certainly gives a glimpse into what was once part of Texas history and politics, and perhaps the remnants still exist.

This old country church in Austin County doesn't appear to have services anymore, but its condition shows that its still being taken care of. You'll also find for-sale mega-mansions located on ranchettes as well as a couple of rural meat markets along this quiet strip of road.

Scattered alongside 529 in western Harris and eastern Waller Counties are any number of small- and medium-sized plants.

2010 Starts in Less Than an Hour, Houston Time

Happy 2010! Here in northwest Harris County the firecrackers–big and small–are constantly popping.  The fireworks stands started cropping up before Christmas, and evidently there were plenty of customers.  The constant blasting started shortly after dusk and hasn’t let up.  This is a big difference from past years when I lived in the city proper and the sound of firecrackers was more sporadic because it’s illegal to shoot them off.  Some still do it, of course, as well as shooting actual firearms.  I can put up with it, and suppose the same will occur when the 4th of July comes around.

Annie hates it and hasn’t ventured far from my side since the first cracks from the fireworks began.  Now she’s sitting on my lap in almost near panic mode, shivering and panting.  I don’t remember her being so frightened by fireworks before, but she has been nervous when it thunders ever since a lightning bolt struck very near us when we were walking home from the park last summer.

They say the way your house looks on New Year’s Day is the way it will stay most of the time for the following year.  I have downstairs in good order.  I finally emptied out the final four boxes from moving that remained and got the contents put away.  Upstairs I started painting this room, which will be the guest room; it’s small, so should be finished by Saturday, even if I don’t work very hard at it.

Here the tradition is blackeyed peas for New Year’s.  I don’t like them all that much so I bought a can of field peas to mix in.  That with some vinegar makes them passable.

The big question now is will we say “Twenty-ten” or “Two thousand ten”?  Whichever–I hope this popping of fireworks brings in a year that will be one where people show respect and love for one another.

Sunday Morning Musings: Great Day (Annise To Be Houston’s Next Mayor), Foggy Day (Wet, “English” Weather), Happy Day (House Getting Semblance of Order)

Fresh "calm" paint on the walls. How do you like the dark accent wall? And there's Annie resting on the bed.

During all the house-hunting, house-buying, moving, and now, finally, settling in, I’ve missed writing here and playing with photos because, even though I have added a few posts, I haven’t put a lot of time into them.

I haven’t really had the motivation to write much about politics.  One thing, being involved in something as wonderful, and, almost, all-consuming, as buying and moving into the first house I’ve ever owned, the emotional ride hasn’t left much room to get angry about the political defeats in Maine and New York or to worry about whether the healthcare system is going to be better or worse after the dust clears in Washington.

However, on the local scene, I’m pretty tickled that Annise Parker has been elected the new mayor of Houston.  (I’m not going to re-hash this topic.  Click onto my homepage to read more about the election.)

Looking from the bedroom into my bathroom. The copper wall decorations I brought back from Greece almost 35 years ago look just as great as they did when I bought them. Probably couldn't afford them now. Yep, and there's Annie posing.

Mostly everything that I’ve been doing has been “house, house, house”.  In a couple of days, I will have been actually living in the house for a month.  People have asked for pictures, and I will add more as time goes by (just to keep up the interest–heh, heh.)  I’d say the house from the front has a Georgian-style look to it.  Hence, the appropriateness of the weather we’ve been having lately.  This morning and the past couple of mornings, the area has had quite a bit of fog; then spells of rain come.  The ground is soggy, quite a difference from spring and most of the summer, when there was a scarcity of precipitation, and there were cracks in the ground.  It’s a great to be in my own house, somehow feeling all protected and cozy, when it’s raining outside.  I suppose that will wear off, but it’s something I never experienced living in an apartment.

Yes, writing here has had to be put a little on the back burner, because with the house come a lot of other “hobbies”.  Mind you, I was aware and looking forward to them.  Even with just the moving in, there have been other projects.  Physically, the house is in pretty good condition, so I haven’t had to do much.  Though I plan to paint all of the rooms sometime, I can stand most of the colors for awhile.  I couldn’t take the “pumpkin” color (some would call it terra cotta) in my bedroom, so even though I had started painting it something more cool and calm, I didn’t get it completely finished until last weekend.  Now it’s done, and I’ve even got the blinds put back up.

(There are so many new things to learn when you get a house, like valance clips.  Not only had I never thought about valance clips before, I would never have imagined that there are so many different kinds of them, and, that when you need to find replacements, that even though the blinds themselves are sold in the fourth largest city in the U.S., it is impossible to find the clips for those blinds locally!)

Foggy morning from my back yard (if you can see the fog). Yep, I have a fountain. And a dead tree that needs to come down.

I need tools.  It’s a good thing that Home Depot and Lowe’s are both less than a mile away, conveniently next to each other, and located before what I would call the slowest and busiest intersection in Harris County–the corner of 529 and Highway 6.  Yes, I live in the county now–definitely “the burbs”.  I had some tools–the typical ones, hammer, screwdrivers, and wrenches.  Now, though, I need yard tools.  So far, I got a saw.  I needed to cut back some of the limbs from the bottle brush trees (yeah, they’re trees not bushes) that were rubbing against the front of the house.)  And hedge clippers.  I don’t have a hedge but there was a huge clump of decorative grass that was spewing way over onto the driveway intertwined with the most devilish rose bush.  After a lot of whacking, the grass appears to have gotten a marine haircut and the rose bush, for want of a better word, has been circumcised.

Oh, yeah, I need some heavy gloves too.

After boxing up and moving so much stuff, especially stuff I’ve collected, I shouldn’t need or want more, but there are things I do need to help me furnish my house–that I didn’t have or need in an apartment.  I guess partly because of my taste and also the style of the house itself, I’ve started looking for pieces at antique stores.  Quite a few years back, antiqueing was one of my hobbies, but when the space ran out, perusing through antique malls and country festivals came to an end.  However, after looking at all the badly-made, somewhat pricey items which come from countries I’d rather not support if I don’t have to, I once again started looking at antique and second-hand stores.  It’s fun, and it’s possible to find something nice and well-made.  And, hey, every bit of the money that I spend at the antique store stays in the U.S.  Yes, so?  What if I’m a liberal and an isolationist?  We need to learn to use what we have and not send our money out of the country when we don’t have to.

"Stilllife--Hopalong Cassidy Cup and Other Kitchen Items". And I like the glass cooktop better than sliced bread!

OK, there my diatribe.  Anyway, yesterday I went to one of the antique malls here in Houston.  (There’s a nice new one in my new area.  Check them out if your anywhere near the northwest part of the beltway–Antiques on 8.)  I really was looking for a side table or some kind of chair to put in my bedroom, but what did I find?  A Hopalong Cassidy cup–just like the one we had when I was a kid.  I had been on the lookout for one of those for a long time.  I’ve even written about that cup before on here. (Check out “Coffee Milk and Hopalong Cassidy”.)  But there it was.  I probably paid a little too much for it, but, really, when it comes something like that, I guess I’m paying for the sentiment and memories as much as anything.

Dang!  I’d better stop musing and get some lunch made.  It looks like the morning’s over!

Another Lesson: Getting the Most for Your Money at the All-You-Can Eat Buffet, Or How To Hide a Gun

9-millimeter Handgun (I had no idea either.)

9-millimeter Handgun (I had no idea either.)

This is not my usual type of post, but I couldn’t resist passing this along. It’s one of those stories that makes you think, “Now has that ever happened before?”

Here in Houston, when someone is arrested they are usually taken to the Houston Municipal Jail, and then if they are not let loose or immediately bailed out, they will be transferred to the Harris County Jail in order to wait for a court appearance or other procedings.

According to a Houston Chronicle article, it seems that one guy who was arrested for bootlegging illegal CD recordings was able to keep a gun on him even though he was searched several times both after his arrest and before entering the city jail and then when he was transferred to the county jail.

George Vera is 5’10” and weighs more than 500 pounds so he was able to hide the 9-millimeter handgun in the folds of his skin during the various searches. It wasn’t until he was taken for a shower that he revealed to a guard that he was hiding a gun.

He is now out on $10,000 bail for both the original bootlegging charge and also for possessing a gun inside a correctional institute.

OK, now go munch on that for awhile.