The year 2011 will not be forgotten in Texoma. Whether its the record shattering heat, massive wildfires or the parched, drought stricken land, this year will become legend. If 2012 is half as bad, it will devastate Texoma's small towns.
The record-breaking summer heat is long gone. Despite rainfall in early October, the signs of a devastating drought are all around us. While residents of Wichita Falls concerned themselves with keeping their lawns green and swimming pools full this summer, Texoma's small farming communities focused on survival. Quanah and Crowell are two of the hardest hit towns.
"It has. I cant remember when its been this bad, and talking with some of the older residents, farmers and everything, they hadn't seen this," said Quanah City Administrator Danny Felty. "We're in a stage 4, which is critical. As you can probably see, no watering of any yards, just conserving water as best we can."
Crowell Mayor Gayle Simpson describes a similar site, "Planted trees and flowers, but we lost all of those." She says the city also closed their swimming pool while Quanah decided to close pools early and leave water in there and use that for fire protection with absolutely no watering of any kind.
No watering of any kind is what leaders from small towns across the Lone Star State are demanding from residents and businesses. Farmers and ranchers know the value of water. No water means no crops, no cattle and no money. So, when most of the residents in counties like Hardeman and Foard are uncertain about their income, everyone pays the price.
"It dominoes down to everyone," said Bertha Woods with Quanah's Chamber of Commerce.
Bertha Woods has been around long enough to know that the pulse of small town business is dependent on the good health of local agriculture. "We didn't need it, we didn't buy it," she said.
With farmers not plowing fields, filling stations don't sell diesel. Many farm equipment dealers have left town. Hundreds of head of cattle have been sold because ranchers can't feed their stock.
"The jobs are drying up as the water is drying up," said Crowell ISD Superintendent Steven Pyburn.
Even schools are seeing multiple effects from this historic drought; the most obvious being fewer students.
"Last year we finished the school year with 236, and were currently at 214 kids," said Superintendent Pyburn.
Both Quanah and Crowell had to dig 80 feet underground to salvage their football seasons. Texas public schools are required to maintain a standard of playability on their football fields. If you don't maintain the standard, you must forfeit your games.
The schools didn't need water to keep the football field green, they needed water to keep the field safe, and city hall was not prepared grant them waivers.
The solution was underground. Crowell dug seven, 80 foot water wells which, together provided 56 gallons per minute, just enough to keep their football season.
"The water wells cost a little over $30,000 to dig," said Pyburn.
Despite the high cost of digging the wells, Pyburn says his school will benefit over the long term.
"We'll be looking at over $6,000 in savings yearly from not having to purchase that water," said Pyburn.
With the drought now expected to persist into 2012, the biggest concern for both Quanah and Crowell is their ever shrinking source of water. A small lake in the Panhandle.
The Greenbelt Reservoir serves about 25,000 people. It is a 1,500 acre lake about 90 miles from Quanah and over 100 miles from Crowell. It is also the water supply for Clarendon, Headley, Childress and most of the rural areas in between. As of mid-October, Greenbelt was at half of its normal capacity.
Newschannel 6 spoke with the General Manager of the Red River Authority, who buys water from Greenbelt Lake, we asked him how much water is left.
"With the restrictions that all of Greenbelt's customers are currently under, keep those in place and all, we feel like we could probably make it through the next year. But, after that, I think its really gonna start getting questionable," said Curtis Campbell, GM for Red River Authority.
Campbell says that Greenbelt is being proactive to prevent a critical situation
"We currently have a study underway to determine what the amount what's in the lake, and the amount that can be withdrawn to keep it from running totally dry, as well as looking at other sources of water," he said.
Other sources of water include ground water wells that will supplement the Greenbelt Lake supply.
Many officials in Quanah and Crowell said there had been plans developed in the 70's and 80's for a fresh water lake on the Pease River, between Quanah and Crowell.
"It would be really nice if they would start that all over again," said Euguene Johnson with Quanah's Economy Development Corporation.
Before a fresh water lake could be established on the Pease River, a filtering lake would have to be established upstream to filter salt from what would be the fresh water reservoir. It's the opinion of the Red River Authority that the Corps of Engineers, a federal agency, abandoned the project due to its enormous cost. Foard County Judge, Mark Christopher, says now is the time to re-visit the issue.
"Some of us people right now, if we had it, we wouldn't have livestock gone, we could have survived. So, it is a major issue, and it's something we all need to address, and put our workin' hats back on, and lets get this thing going," he said.
Judge Christopher says he owes it to the people of Foard County to fight for new sources of water. He's going to devote a lot of time to encouraging officials at the state and federal levels to see the critical need and take action.
"Bottom line, we're all gonna need water," said Judge Christopher.
When speaking to the people of Quanah and Crowell about the challenges they face, there is concern, but these are not people who give up easy. They are no strangers to hardship or misfortune. They know that these big, Texas skies are not always agreeable. One thing they have not lost is hope.
"We just take it and live with what we've got," said Crowell Mayor Gayle Simpson.
"We're survivors and I guess we always have been and always will be," said Johnson.
There is an opportunity for you to get in on the discussion of the future of water resources in Texoma. The Red River Valley Association is hosting a water resources conference in Wichita Falls on Wednesday, November 16. Both Senator Craig Estes and Representative Lanham Lyne have been invited. It is open to the public, but you must register to attend. There is a link to the online registration form here.