Mesquite Trees Threaten Water Table

The New Year is not bringing any signs of the drought ending. With the concern over the situation growing, Newschannel 6 is taking a closer look at a big menace in Texoma – the Mesquite tree.

The tree is a major problem "They're a very invasive species. They infest this area of NW Texas and SW Oklahoma around here and they basically pull a lot of moisture out of the ground that could be used to grow grass for our cattle and provide water for our water shed for our lakes and things like that," said WinField Solutions Seed and Agronomy Adviser Ross Cantrell.

Despite a common misconception to the contrary, Mesquites have always been native to this area. "They've been mainly distributed down in creek bottoms and natural watershed areas," said Cantrell. They grew to the overwhelming problem they are today after the land was settled. Cattle helped spread the seeds, and with Humans populating the area, wildfires were not as effective a means of control, according to researchers.

The pesky shrub isn't affected by the drought. "It seems to have almost favored the Mesquite tree. They have a deep tap root they can pull water from the depths deep in the ground and even though the grass wasn't growing the Mesquite trees seemed to flourish," Cantrell said. "They're just taking water away from the grass that terribly needed it."

There is no way to ever get rid of the trees. Controlling them, however, is a necessary and seemingly endless task. Land owners can use mechanical control – using bulldozers to uproot the trees, but that is sometimes cost-prohibitive. The other option is chemical control. "Within chemical control we use spray planes. We aerial-spray Mesquite, we can cover large areas and big pastures in a short amount of time," explained Cantrell.

Aerial spraying has effectiveness between 20%-70%. Some elect to use backpack sprayers and apply the herbicides directly to the plant. According to Cantrell, that has a 90% rate of success. "That's actually more effective a treatment, but its a lot more labor intensive," he said. Some ranchers hire high school kids each summer to ride around on ATVs and apply the herbicide.

To put things in perspective, one must consider data from the San Angelo area. In a single year the entire water supply of the city used roughly 6.5B gallons of water. Mesquites and other trees in the same area drew 100 times that amount – more than 650B gallons – in the same year, according to researchers.

Despite the uphill battle, land owners must fight the trees. "I used to laugh and say there's two things ranchers never get through doing here in North Texas, one is repairing fence and the other is spraying mesquite trees," joked Cantrell. They are fighting for the very water that allows them to live.

Paul Harrop, Newschannel 6