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Texas hopes to learn lessons from searing drought

By Ramit Plushnick-masti

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 12 2012 12:55 p.m. MDT

In addition, the state's utilities did not impose restrictions consistently. In some areas, one city restricted water usage, while a neighboring town did not. Houston, for example, had mandatory restrictions in place for months, while neighboring Sugar Land never implemented its drought-contingency plan.

"You don't see people reacting uniformly to an issue that hit Texas pretty uniformly," said Laura Huffman, director of the Nature Conservancy in Texas.

Farmers and ranchers are taking steps of their own. Many are drilling wells, realizing that in the next drought they will not be able to rely on surface water alone.

In fact, so many farmers are drilling wells, conservation districts say they will have to stop permitting them at some point. At least one rice farmer, Ronald Gertson, is supplementing his income by selling well pipes because he's not getting water from Austin-area reservoirs for his crops.

Combs' office issued a report in February that also looked at strategies employed in other cities.

In arid New Mexico, Santa Fe diversified its water supply and now draws water from two lakes and two aquifers. The city has also taken steps to prevent water evaporation and wildfires, including forest thinning and controlled burning. Those projects could also be useful in Texas, where evaporation during triple-digit heat helped deplete reservoirs and wildfires destroyed more than 1,600 homes and charred 33,000 acres near Austin.

Combs also believes Texas should invest in desalinization, an expensive but quicker alternative to building new reservoirs. Cities, she said, must create more consistent plans for dealing with drought and offer financial incentives to help farmers.

What is certain, she said, is that if steps aren't taken, Texas' future will be shaky.

The lack of water, Combs said, "is the single most devastating thing that can happen to the economy."

Plushnick-Masti can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com//RamitMastiAP

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