© 2022 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Water restrictions increase along the scorched border as Falcon Reservoir steadily fades

Falcon Lake at Falcon International Reservoir
Barry Goldsmith, Jeremy Katz
/
National Weather Service Brownsville
Falcon Lake at Falcon International Reservoir

Water levels at Falcon International Reservoir fell to 9.7% as of Friday, according to a report by the Texas Water Development Board, because of the drought currently gripping the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico.

Major municipalities downstream from Falcon, including McAllen and Brownsville in the Rio Grande Valley, have enacted more severe levels of water restrictions in the past few days in response to the rapidly decreasing availability of surface water in the region.

The National Weather Service in Brownsville (NWSB) visited Falcon Lake earlier this week in order to report on conditions.

“On a brutally hot day at Falcon Dam and State Park, two of our meteorologists witnessed some of the lowest lake levels on record,” NWSB said in a social media post. “We could practically feel the lake water evaporating in the 107 degree heat.”

Martin Castro, watershed science director at Rio Grande International Study Center, explained that the current drought, climate change, and an inadequate infrastructure have all contributed to the current situation. But water consumption is also playing a part.

“This has only been exacerbated by the ongoing irrigation season in the Rio Grande Valley,” Castro said. “It’s in full swing right now.”

A view of Falcon Dam downstream from Falcon International Reservoir
Barry Goldsmith, Jeremy Katz
/
National Weather Service Brownsville
A view of Falcon Dam downstream from Falcon International Reservoir

Most municipalities on the Texas-Mexico border downstream from Falcon don’t yet have official announcements on water restrictions, but more jurisdictions are preparing to announce them.

A manager at a local water supply entity in Hidalgo County said that organizations in the region are rushing to coordinate restrictions in the coming days, depending on usage conditions.

“We’ve been having tons of meetings and phone calls on what to put on the flyers and letters that we’re going to be sending out about conserving water,” the manager told TPR. ”How to get the messaging out, anticipating questions and prepping responses.”

They also said that local water organizations are experiencing “a lot of pressure and blowback from large businesses and wealthy customers.”

Bobby Janecka, commissioner of The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, spoke with a local news station last week about the possible lack of readiness from local water entities across the state.

“A lot of the entities in Texas who are pulling out and brushing off the drought conservation plan that they provided to us,” Janecka said. “Many may be unfortunately finding where they didn’t put as much time into the planning difficult decisions before them in drafting a plan. Those tough questions are still waiting to be answered today.”

Northwest of the Rio Grande Valley, the Amistad International Reservoir supplies water downstream to cities including Del Rio, Eagle Pass and Laredo.

With capacity currently at 31.4%, municipalities served by Amistad have not yet put water restrictions in place, but they are encouraging conservation efforts as surface water levels continue to decrease.

“The Utilities Department sends a call to the community to start conserving water voluntarily,” said the City of Laredo in a public statement. “Many nearby cities are already implementing programs to take care of our precious resources. One way we can start helping is by practicing a voluntary irrigation schedule.”

NWS Brownsville said in a separate social media post that while rain in the area could reverse the situation, forecasts are “rather dire” for the Rio Grande Basin into early fall.

“Only a tropical event can help,” it added.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

Pablo De La Rosa is a Northern Tamaulipas-Rio Grande Valley native where he works as a writer and multimedia producer of stories from the Texas-Mexico border region.