Monday, September 17, 2012

Why Rain Doesn't Always Help Us

Why Rainfall Doesn’t Always Help Us
September 17, 2012

Why rainfall doesn't help us. The geological structure of the greater Austin area is composed of a base of limestone, because most of Texas was the bottom of an ancient lake. Most of the greater Austin area has a very thin layer of topsoil, averaging as little as 4 to 6 inches; and underneath that, solid limestone. This is especially true of the Hill country, which makes up the majority of the watersheds for our 2 main reservoirs, lakes Austin and Buchanan. Because of this geological structure, rainfall general measurements are a poor indicator of the amount of water that ends up in our reservoirs. Our predominant rainfall comes in the form of thunderstorms, which produce brief but torrential rains. The initial 20 min. or so of what is called a gully washer, is quickly absorbed by the dry and parched topsoil. The water fall after that rapidly runs off and ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. So, unless the generalized pattern of scattered thunderstorms produces a storm directly over the relatively small watershed areas of the 2 reservoirs, it adds nothing to our water reserves. Since we live in a County with a high population density, approximately 1.7 million people in the greater Austin area, we are totally dependent on these reservoirs for a constant steady and reliable source of water. To make matters worse, the growth of this area has been in the high tech sector which has attracted people from all over the United States and abroad for these jobs in cutting edge high tech industries. Included, in the high-tech sector are many semi-conductor fabrication plants (approximately 14 in number). These “chip fabs”, as they are called in the industry, use phenomenal amounts of water in their manufacturing process. For example, it takes over 800 gallons of highly purified water to rinse a single 8 inch silicone wafer. Each of these factories produce thousands of wafers every day. An article on the subject, estimated that an average chip fab used an amount of water that would support a city of over 50,000 people. Therefore, these drought conditions with ever declining water levels in our reservoirs puts these chip fab factories in jeopardy. Since they represent enormous capital investment to build and maintain, and require a very highly educated and sophisticated workforce, they have tremendous leverage on the local economy, and thus the politicians who stake their careers on Austin's reputation on a national level as a high tech center which produces a constant stream of highly placed  well-paying jobs.

It has become increasingly evident that this conflict of interest between the high-tech industries that attract people to this area, and the normal and unavoidable need for water to sustain life and maintain other facilities that make Austin such a wonderful place to live within its beautiful lakes and parks and other amenities. This conflict produced a dramatic example last year, 2011, the hottest and driest year in the state of Texas ever recorded.  In spite of the miserable relentless heat, Travis County saw 26,000 people move into the area from all over the country. Then last winter, nature gave us an unexpected break from the relentless heat and lack of rainfall, and we were blessed with 7 straight months of average rainfall. And the result, which is counter intuitive, we saw our reservoirs levels went down. There can be no mistake about the data, for the lake levels are measured several times a day by state of the art techniques using feet above sea level as the standard.  This data is published daily on the LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority) web sight.
The meaning of this is clear, we have simply outgrown what nature will give us in terms of replacing the water that we use from our reservoirs. And I repeat, these 2 reservoirs are our only source of water. The problem is of course not purely a growth issue, but partially due to the fact that only a very specific pattern of rainfall adds a significant amount of water to our reservoirs. Generally speaking, the predominant rainfall pattern comes in the form of scattered thunderstorms, is almost useless. The only rainfall pattern that can be counted on to enter the reservoirs is a slow gentle constant rainfall over a large part of the greater Austin area, which we just experienced over this past weekend, September 15-17.

This is exactly the common rainfall pattern in Seattle Washington. I know this well because I lived there for 20 years. Seattle only receives about 42 inches of rain per year, which is about the same as Houston Texas, and only slightly more than the Dallas Fort Worth area. Yet, the average tree, which is a Douglas fir, is 150 feet tall with trunks 3 feet in diameter. And these are 2nd growth trees. The trees that were present when the loading industry arrived averaged between 250 and 300 feet in height. An average tall tree in any Texas urban area averages about 50 feet, and these trees have the benefit of irrigation. The point of all this is that the slow heavy drizzle type rainfall is so much more effective for plant life, that when compared to a radically different pattern of rainfall such as our scattered thunderstorm, it renders evaluating drought in terms of average rainfall almost completely useless. When assessing drought conditions, and the chances of recovery or worsening of those conditions, rainfall patterns and population density must be weighted at least as much as measurements of total rainfall. None of the standard rainfall maps that are thrown in our faces by the Austin-American newspaper consider anything but soil moisture. The originals of this type of map made sense when the population was spread out into small town's and the dominant industry was agriculture. Our local newspaper ran a front-page story about a month ago stating the case that the drought was getting better. They published a map from an institution that I was not familiar with. I looked it up, and the source was a research organization in Omaha, Nebraska, whose main concern is the soil moisture as it affects their main agricultural products: hogs, corn & soybeans.  Their database covered the entire country and our newspaper selected a portion that included Central Texas which do make it appear that drought conditions were improved.  But this is intentional deception, clearly meant to soften local concerns about our drought. We grow computer chips here, not hogs or soybeans and maybe a tiny bit of corn. As far as I know, and though I readily admit I am not an expert on the history of Travis County. But I do have a good working knowledge of horticulture, and I know that you  can not grow vigorous crops of corn or soy beans on 6 inches of top soil.  The situation a few miles to the northeast of Round Rock (home of Dell Computer), in the area around Hutto and Taylor, the soil is rich and deep and is some of the most productive in the state.  However, that area shares our water shortage and an 8 foot pipeline to supply Hutto with water has just been completed.

As far as I know, there has never been an agricultural basis for the economy here in Travis County. Austin has always been an intellectual and political power center, propelled by the large state government and the huge and highly ranked University of Texas. Since I attended there in the 1960s, this prestigious university have and still has 55,000 students, including over 20,000 graduate students whose research before and after graduation brings in countless dollars and corporate investment and facilities. The highly trained and sophisticated PhD's produce a virtual endless stream of talent for any company doing any type of research and development. Therefore, comparing the rainfall and it's affect on the economy of the agricultural based small town of Omaha Nebraska, to the intellectual research and development mecca with a population of over 30 times the size of Omaha is laughable, as well as being deceptive.  It is disturbing that Perry and his allies stoop to cheap tricks to deceive the public about the level of danger that brewing and getting worse by the day.

I we the people of Travis County do not wake up and see clearly that we are rapidly running out of water, in as soon a six months; AND absolutely nothing is being done to mitigate the situation.   There are not even in plans in the making as to what emergency measures need to be taken IF we run out of water (which is a as close to a scientific certainty as is possible).  We are in a long term drought pattern with no end in sight, and we use much more on a daily basis the the reservoirs can supply, even given an occasional  break from nature.

Climactic change which produces less resources in the form of rain and food production, in a culture whose economic system based on a need for constant growth, and the need for essentially endless recourses, is a conflict so basic it is bound to be profoundly disruptive.  But WE humans must adapt to these changes or we will perish.  No better argument for conservation and “living within your means” has ever been made that the current situation in Central Texas where I live.  It is a heart wrenching process to watch.  We are being tested by nature, and at this point it appears to me that we are going to fail.  But Texans and all of humanity have risen to the demands of worse situations that this, so I remain hopeful.

Morris Creedon-McVean

Sunday, September 9, 2012

South Texas is an Acute State of Emergency

South Texas is an Acute State of Emergency
September 9, 2012 

So that your computer screening algorithm doesn’t falsely categorize these comments, let me state them clearly from the start:  1)  My main concern is the LIVES, safety, and welfare of the PEOPLE of TEXAS.
             2)  Clarify: why, I am certain that the urban populations 
are at much greater risk due to the drought than they believe.
              3)  The reason for their heightened risk is that all public service organizations have failed to informed the public of the SEVERE and NEAR EMERGENCY levels of the reservoirs on which urban communities depend for all the water needs and ALL of the electrical power needs. In this State the only way electricity is generated is by use of the standard steam generator which ,by the nature of it’s design, must run at high speeds to be efficient. Due to a flaw in the design, these generators periodically run too fast and heat up. If they are not immediately cooled with large amounts of water, they explode.  So, no water, means no electricity.  No electricity means no gas, because gasoline pumps require electricity.  Few people are aware of these relationships.
          4)   The most culpable is the State government whose leadership recently declared “there is no water problem…no further conservation measures are necessary.”  This declaration is so contradictory to the fact, that it is not only a bold faced lie, but deprives the public of information that would allow them to make their own decision.  This is simply not the American way of doing things.  I can think of nothing to be gained by sitting back and watching this wonderful city fall apart, when, while we cannot control the drought, we can do many things to mitigate the impact. We can plan for evacuations, stockpile bottled water, install generators. All these kinds of actions require time for planning and execution. My simple calculations suggest that Travis County will be bone dry by the first week in February.  It would take a massive volunteer army of citizens  to accomplish anything substantial, even if we managed to start by October 1st, a mere 3 weeks away.

On June 29, 2012 the combined lake reservoirs of Travis County (Austin) hit a predetermined trigger point that was set during the1951 drought.  The recommendation of the former Texas Water Commission directed by a scientist and Professor of Biology at Texas A&M with an impeccable pedigree and long record of successful management of Texas water crisis, was immediate dramatic cutbacks on our usage of both water and power, including “rolling brownouts”.  But nothing happened. Utilities routinely follow the commission’s recommendations because of their impeccable history of success.  However, Governor Perry intervened and stopped the recommendations from being executed.  A month later, he had the water districts issue a letter to all retail customers stating “There is no longer a water problem; and, no further conservation efforts will be necessary.” He “defined” away the problem.  Meanwhile, our reservoirs steadily went lower.   Then last Friday the LCRA announced a complete change in the Board of Directors, filled with people from the real estate and financial sectors who have an obvious conflict of interest with any conservation efforts or even an honest warning to the general public about the general potential dangers that they may face.  No a single scientist is on the board.  None of the new board members have any experience in water management.

I then did some simple calculations based on the current water supply in the reservoirs : 898,809 acre feet on Sept 2, 2012.  All numbers are in units of acre feet unless otherwise indicated.

898,809 ( *1)  divided by 40,000/week (an average usage rate)= 22.47 weeks =157.29 days= 5.243 months.

Thus, this estimation projects that we will run completely dry by the first week in February 2013.  Draconian cutbacks in power and water will have to begin well before that, no matter what the Governor names the situation.  So, extreme cutbacks should begin as early as October (that is next month) to avoid the risk of running completely dry in 5 short months which would mean1.7 million people without power, water, food or gasoline and no warning that this was going to happen.  That sounds like a serious problem to me.  No preparations of any kind have been made by any organization on any level of government from county/city to FEMA; and neither have any NGO’s (Non-Government organizations).  People in Travis County will be like people in the Sudan, no supplies to sustain life, no way of escape, and no one ready to provide the massive relief necessary. 

That is the course the State Government led by our Governor, who doesn’t believe government has any role is social services, which quite bizarrely includes not warning the public of impending disasters.  But, we are a free people and we are not bound to follow the Governor’s advice (do nothing). We must dramatically reduce our usage of power and water by 50% to buy time to prepare for the day our lakes are empty and total social and economic chaos and panic result.

 The Governor could be impeached and removed from office; so that a person capable of managing this disaster (like a retired Army Coronel with experience in disaster relief) could take control.  But that must happen quickly, in less than a month.  Not impossible, but this state is totally dominated by Perry’s party, which will go down in history as the party that destroyed the State’s capitol out of pure negligence.  The populous is so conditioned to take the word of the party in power that we don’t even question their near-dictatorial powers.   In this case, the lack of a healthy opposition will prove to be catastrophic.   What I am talking about is just Austin.  I have every reason to believe that the situation is even worse in San Antonio and in the Valley.  Eastern Texas cities, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston’s reservoirs are in better condition; but, they certainly don’t have even remotely an “excess” that would enable them to help the critical shortages in South Texas.  To the north, there are catastrophic droughts all the way to southern Minnesota.

My grandparents all lived their lives on farms.  Living off the land with hard work and intelligent use of limited recourses---they wasted NOTHING.  They showed the kind of courage that built this great country and reached its peak of accomplishment after WWII after saving the world from fascism.  Then for the first time in history, instead of pillaging the losers, America rebuilt the devastated German and Japanese economies and installed democratic republic governments. This was to end the cycles of wars causing wars due to the desperation of the defeated, which is exactly what happened after WWI, creating fertile ground for Hitler to gain power by promising hope.

This is not the time for Texans, long respected for their toughness and determination under the most trying circumstances, to be passive and swallow the bold faced lies our government is dishing out on a daily basis.  The Austin-American Statesman has sold out to the Perry fantasy that “prayer “ will save us from the devastation of this drought.  Perry stated this in a speech in December of 2011 when he acknowledged that there was a drought.

 It is normal to be frightened by this unprecedented drought; but, we must act and do our best in spite of our fear.  Courage is the ability to act and do the right thing in spite of fear.  Cowardice is giving into the fear and becoming paralyzed to take action.  We are presently acting more like the later than the former.  I believe we are better than that.  The spirit that our ancestors had is still alive in us; it is just in hiding.  It must be found and roused into action soon.  Thousands of lives are at stake.  The drought is real.  It is already threatening to destroy the economy and the population base of the state, now at 26.5 million.  The World Climactic Change is real; and, Texas is the first State (along with the less populous states of New Mexico and Arizona) to suffer the consequences of these devastating climactic changes that no one living has ever experienced.  We must break through our fear and denial and actively do everything in our power to mitigate the effects.  Just pretend it is the worst hurricane to ever hit the state.  The main difference is that this event will not last a few days and then simply disappear.  This climactic event will last for years.

I was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas.
BS in Radio-TV-Film University of Texas at Austin 1971
DO from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine 1980
I have over 190 credits mostly in science and engineering in the University of Texas System.  I changed majors three times: electrical engineering (GPA of 3.61), radio-RV-Film and Biology.

Since I read Marshall McCluhan’s prophetic The Medium is the Message, warning of the dangers of mental illness from watching television, in 1969, I have not watched television since. I know of none of my peers who responded to his admonitions in such a manner.  So, while virtually everyone else was watching television, I was reading non-fiction text books regarding the latest breakthrough in a vast variety of fields.  When Prozac appeared in the late ‘80’s and destroyed our psychological  model of human behavior, the next decade was an exciting time, a major breakthrough in our understanding of the biology of the brain and how it effected our behavior produced an exciting new book at least every month.  I read them all including new breakthroughs in genetics, linguistic, demographics, paleoanthropology,  the great human diaspora, and on and on.  My family called me “the Book Worm”. I also read dozens of books on finance and trading stocks, bonds, and futures.  I was a full time trader for over 2 years, Until I figured out that every aspect of the world of finance is rigged, in that without the right powerful friends, the common man doesn’t have a chance of making money in any of the markets and keeping it.
Retired in 2011 due to medical disability after serving for 8 years at the State’s largest psychiatric institution, North Texas State Hospital in Wichita Falls and Vernon (where the forensic unit was located).  There, I learned valuable lessons from direct contact with the sickest of the sick.

The above explanation is written to describe my varied backgrounds; and, thus,  knowledge in what I write in order to dismiss any skeptics.

flickr:    Over 22,ooo posts

Morris Creedon-McVean, D.O.
Licensed to practice Medicine in Texas
Not a single malpractice suit in over 30 years of clinical medicine; including 8 years at the largest mental hospital in the State, North Texas State Hospital in Wichita Falls & Vernon.

If this makes any sense to you please forward a copy to everyone you know, especially residneses of Texas, the only way to mitigate this disaster is if we  understand and organize ourselves, and takes the necessary actions in order to save each other.  In spite of the negative outlook, it could be the catalyst for a rebuilding of community in not only Texas but the entire nation.  Wouldn't that be a refreshing change to the Presidential campaign, when seemed to bring out the worst qualities of Americans divisiveness, hatred, a complete refusal to discuss the issue that were most important to the american people.  A condensed summery of Campaign 2012 would be "I don't like you, because your party caused (insert probled) 3 decades ago.  No facts to support the accusation, then hurry on to the next complaint. I can't speak for you, but this script stunk the firts time, and now after 101 repititions it all makes me sick.  Let. vote Tues september 17th and get it over with.  The only event of substance left is the debates and that is such an unfair fight with Obams's skills in that format so much more formable, that it will a skillful vs unskillful exercise in avoidance.  We deserve better than that.

*1  Source;lakevolume  (a service of the Texas State Water Commission calculated in real time using feet above sea level as the methodology.)
*2 Usage rate used at the higher end of the range of variable usage rates because of the high temperatures which are likely to continue and the constantly increasing population, and the Governors written message to utilities that “there is no more water problem and no further conservation measures are needed”