WESLACO – Spring rains in extreme South Texas have helped keep reservoir levels behind Amistad and Falcon dams from dropping, but more is needed to help crops and end the drought, according to various experts in the field.
“We’ve gotten a lot more rain this spring than we did last year, but crops still need to be irrigated,” said Dr. Juan Enciso, an irrigation engineer at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco.
“Rains complement irrigation,” he said. “Sugarcane, for example, requires 60 to 70 inches of water. If we get our normal 25 inches of rain in a year, a grower still needs to irrigate almost 40 inches or so.”
Citrus requires about 43-50 inches of water, cotton 35 inches, sorghum 22 inches, vegetables 16-22 inches, and summer corn needs 25, he said.
“If rains fall at the right time, at germination for example, like they did this year, they can really help crop yields,” Enciso said. “It’s also very beneficial at flowering. Unfortunately, it often rains a lot in a short period of time, which can produce wasteful runoff. What crops really need is prolonged rain. And once a plant matures, more water won’t help yields.”
Rainfall totals in Weslaco so far this year amount to 6.8 inches, slightly higher than the 10-year average of five inches, Enciso said.
“We’re thankful for the rains, but we could use more slow, soaking rains to penetrate the subsoil profile and replenish our reservoirs,” Enciso said.
Barry Goldsmith, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Brownsville, agrees.
“The rains have provided a temporary relief, but long term, we’re just not there yet,” he said. “In fact, if we continue to have hot and dusty days, we’re in trouble.”
The wet spring weather pattern this year started in February, Goldsmith said, and even included a rare, severe hailstorm in McAllen that could eventually amount to damages of $100 million, according to the weather service website.
“The jet stream allowed energy to build up in February and that started things off. It gave us rains that made for a pretty spring; it gave a huge boost to plants and trees,” he said.
Sporadic rainfall through most of May in the Falcon and Amistad watershed, in both the U.S. and Mexico, helped growers and reservoir levels, according to Erasmo Yarrito Jr., Rio Grande watermaster with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.