Is the End of the Texas Drought Near?

Do you believe an Aggie or a Red Raider?

The Los Angeles Times recently ran a story on the September torrential rainfall in Texas: Rain pounds Texas: A sign the drought is ending?

“This could be the start of the end of the drought,” said state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University.

“We’ve been behind on rainfall for several years in West Texas. We have thirsty watersheds.” “We need multiple, wetter years,” said Ken Rainwater, former director of the Water Resources Center at Texas Tech University.

Well, this is one Aggie-Red Raider dispute that can’t be settled on the gridiron.

Let’s look at the question in two ways.

First look at data on water supply conditions—take the example of San Antonio who is mostly dependent on groundwater pumped from the Edwards Aquifer. Groundwater pumping is managed by pumping rights in two pools: San Antonio Pool (guess where San Antonio pumps) and the Uvalde Pool (west of San Antonio mostly on the other side of the Knippa Gap).  When elevations in key monitoring wells (Well J-17 for the San Antonio Pool) fall below trigger levels, allowed pumping is cutback from the amount stated in groundwater permits (see table).

Critical Management Periods and Cutbacks

Critical Management Period

Elevation Cutbacks










4 630






With this background, let’s look at data on the elevation of Well J-17 (which is published daily by the Edwards Aquifer Authority

San Antonio has been in critical management periods for most of the time since 2011 (see figure). Generally speaking, the elevation of Well J-17 reaches a low in the fall (when the irrigation season ends) and reaches a high in the following spring (when the irrigation season starts).  Reflecting the multiple-year drought in Texas, both the annual highs and lows for the elevation of Well J-17 have been progressively lower.

J 17 Well Elevations

San Antonio drifted into ongoing Stage 1 restrictions (20% cutback) in March 2011, penetrated Stage 2 restrictions (30% cutbacks) by June 2012, and fell into Stage 3 restrictions (35% cutback) by July 2013. Well J-17 elevations marched toward Stage 4 restrictions (40% cutbacks) and flirted with Stage 5 restrictions (44% cutbacks) this summer.

The downpour in late September as well as the wind down in the irrigation season caused a “bump” in Well J-17 elevations out of Stage 5 restriction territory. Is an elevation of more than 640 feet in the near future (Stage 2)?  Or even higher elevations?

Aggies: yes

Red Raiders: no

A second way to look at the issue is join the Stratecon Water Policy Marketplace and look at the “Well J-17” prediction market.  Which stage of restrictions will the San Antonio Pool be in on April 1, 2015?  Come on Aggies, Stage 1 or Stage 2?  What about you Red Raiders: Stage 3, Stage 4 or Stage 5.  What do Longhorns think?  Non-Texans?

You don’t need to be an expert on hydrology to participate. The “wisdom of crowds” is smarter than experts (Google it!).  It’s free.  It’s anonymous. Try it.

This entry was posted in Edwards Aquifer, Prediction Markets, Supply Reliability, Water Shortages on by .

About Rodney T. Smith

Rodney T. Smith, Ph.D., President of Stratecon Inc.—an economics and strategic planning consulting firm—advises public and private sector water users on the acquisition, sale and leasing of water rights and water supplies in the western U.S. He is routinely involved in economic valuation of water rights, water investments, and negotiation of water acquisition and transportation agreements and has served as an expert witness in the economic valuation of groundwater resources, disputes over the economic interpretation of water contracts, economics of water conservation and water use practices, and the socio-economic impacts of land fallowing. For more information, see