From one extreme to another: Drought to flood

This article was published last Thursday in the Katy Trail Weekly. Since then, it has continued to rain and floods are causing damage all over Texas. The forecast for the next few days has more chances of rain.

It’s hard to remember to back a few months, when we were all begging to see more rain. Now, it seems, we are happy when the sun pokes through the clouds. Living in Texas, we know there are periods of drought and if we are lucky, more wet periods like the past few weeks. This year the recorded rainfall at the Dallas Love Field Airport, recorded by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is 16.91 inches, (5.70 above normal). The plentiful rainfall in the area has provided some benefits to us and wildlife but we need to remember that there will be more fluctuation and increased rainfall also has a negative effect.

The increased rainfall has brought our lake levels up to full and many have opened their dams to release excess water. The NOAA website reminds us, “Just 3 months ago, the water supply lakes for Dallas and Fort Worth were collectively less than two thirds full but are now over 90% capacity.” Going into Memorial Day weekend, people will be able to enjoy fishing, boating and swimming in many of our local lakes but be sure to check out the status of the local parks as many facilities are closed due to flooding.

The increased rainfall has caused some major and minor flooding in the area, and with the expectation of more rain in the next few weeks, more flooding will follow. Flooding is a natural occurrence that can have positive effects to the environment such as redistributing nutrient rich soil over vast areas creating productive lands and increasing access to water for wildlife. When floods are located within areas of human development the excess water effects city’s drainage systems, water supply, electricity and can destroy houses, commercial buildings, farms, livestock and soften the soil leading to unsteady foundations.

Looking at the flooded Trinity River, the increase of trash and pollution from the increased rain is obvious. Rain falls on surfaces picking up debris, chemicals, sediment, oil and other pollutants, washing them directly into our Trinity River. This polluted stormwater runoff can cause adverse effects on plants, fish, animals and people. Build up of sediment can cause water to be murky making it difficult for aquatic plants to grow, chemicals can poison aquatic life and excess nutrients (think fertilizer) can cause algae blooms which ultimately lead to depleted oxygen levels in the water and large aquatic life die offs.

Trinity River on Monday May 18, 2015 - Since then more rain has caused higher floods.

Trinity River on Monday May 18, 2015 – Since then more rain has caused higher floods.

Floods also destroys nests, cause mortality, and increase the spread of parasites and disease. In the panhandle of Texas, scientists are monitoring the rodent and prairie dog populations. The increase in rain causes a dramatic increase in rodent populations but also increases the spread of disease that can cause large die-offs in the species. The more water in areas can also cause an increase in the spread of disease to humans. The World Health Organization states, “Increased precipitation may increase the presence of disease vectors by expanding the size of existent larval habitat and creating new breeding.”

Scientists expect the rain to keep coming this year. NOAA expects El Nino conditions to strengthen this year and above normal rainfall to continue in the Fall of 2015 into 2016. In times of increased rain it’s hard to remember water is a valuable resource. Thinking back a few months to when we were still amidst a drought, reminds us that at some point in our future the rain will be less plentiful. Wise use of our water resource, such as planting native plants and conserving water in your home, is just as important now as it is in a drought. The increase in rain is also a good reminder that whatever we put on our yards, agricultural crops (insecticides and fertilizers) and on our streets, is washed into our own watershed and effects our environment.

This time of plenty water is exciting as we can all celebrate turning off our sprinklers, but we can’t forget the complexity of issues more rain brings to our area.

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